Mental Illness Awareness Week- Eating Disorders

I often ponder why the mental illness with the highest mortality rate is commonly overlooked, especially when one is at an increased risk of developing an eating disorder during their teen years. How can we help those who are currently suffering, or prevent the illness from progressing, when some of those affected have yet to come to terms with it?

What is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is a complex mental illness that first-handedly affects one’s physical health. Those who struggle with their personal image or sense of self-worth are at greater risk of developing an eating disorder. An affected person would describe it as the excessive stress or disturbance when it comes to their behaviour around food as well as their thoughts associated with it. Food often begins to feel more like a weapon than a tool that is vital for your health.

The origin of eating disorders vary from person to person. For some, their eating disorder is fuelled by their desire to lose weight in a very short period of time. For others, it may branch from trauma or mental illnesses, that cause them to be easily susceptible to disordered eating tendencies.

How to Identify an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders come in an amplitude of forms and are not always simple to identify. Common misconceptions are that one must be underweight, malnourished, or refuse to eat, to be considered someone with an eating disorder. Though these can be indicators, mental illnesses are not a “one size fits all”. 

Some other indicators include:

  • Body dysmorphia
  • Secretive eating habits
  • Excessive emphasis on calories, and healthy eating
  • Obsession with continuous exercise
  • Refusal to consume certain foods and/or food groups
  • Using the scale multiple times a day
  • Excessive fasting
  • Avoidance of social outings
  • Abuse of laxatives or diet pills
  • Stopping of menstrual cycle (for women)
  • Denial & defense around the subject
  • Hair loss and tooth decay

The fallacy around eating disorders and their signs, result in the prolonging of recovery. Those who are suffering often stall their recovery through emphasis on the feeling that they are, “not sick enough” or sick at all. When one is dealing with a mental illness that carries tendencies as competitive as eating disorders, they may never feel “sick enough” to get help on their own. 

How to Initiate Eating Disorder Recovery?

Coming to terms with an eating disorder is the hardest, but most important step in the journey to recovery. Recovery is not possible if the individual that is struggling, fails to recognize the changes they must make. It is crucial to know that recognizing an eating disorder does not deem one as weak or a failure. It deems them as a strong individual, who is ready to overcome a barrier that has had a substantial impact on their life. The person directly affected, is the only one who can truly jumpstart their recovery. It is not easy for one to come to terms with their need for help, but prolonging rehabilitation only makes the journey increasingly daunting.

Creating a supportive recovery is extremely important to prevent a relapse. If you or someone close to you may be suffering, do not wait to begin the process. Whether that means approaching the individual and voicing your concerns, or reaching out to someone else and sharing the start of your recovery journey, both are equally important. If you do not feel comfortable sharing this chapter of your life, just know that while it is understandably hard, it is crucial. You can approach a friend, family member, social worker, therapist, online support group or helpline for support. The options are endless, and they are yours to choose from. So, why not make today the day that you initiate the journey to recovery? 

Online Support Outlets:

  • National Eating Disorder Information Centre in Toronto- Phone Number: 416-340-4156  Email: nadic@uhn.ca
  • Canadian Mental Health Association: Halton Region Branch- Phone Number: 905-693-4720 Email: info@cmhahrb.ca
  • Kids Help Phone-  Phone Number: 1-800-668-6868 or Text CONNECT to 686868

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