Culturally, eating disorders are often associated with young teenagers who don't know exactly how to cope with their developing bodies or fluctuating dynamics in their families and peer groups. But as teens become older and transition from high school to the broader world of a university campus, they can be even more susceptible to disordered eating behaviors. The risk of eating disorders in college students has continued to escalate these past several years, and there are multiple reasons behind the persistence of this issue.
Are eating disorders hereditary? What is the connection between eating disorders and heredity? Are some people more genetically predisposed to these illnesses than others? Sure, psychosocial factors—such as environmental influence and media exposure—can lead to disordered eating behaviors, but what about the biological piece? It strikes me as curious that my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all exhibited tendencies around both food and body image that I know to be consistent with eating disorders. And moreover, I cannot help but wonder if there is a genetic link between these patterns of generational dysfunction and my own battle with anorexia. So this curiosity has prompted me to delve into what science might reveal in terms of eating disorders and heredity.
While anorexia, bulimia, and other related illnesses can affect the members of any population, evidence shows eating disorders have a disproportionate impact on youth in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) community. As of 2018, more than 50 percent of U.S. residents between the ages of 13 and 24, who self-identify as LGBTQ, have suffered from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. This research is based on a nationwide survey of 1,034 people within this demographic, and it stands to reason, this steep percentage is a result of the unique obstacles or traumas that LGBTQ individuals often experience. So let's discuss how eating disorders can impact youth in the LGBTQ community—and how to support those who face this painful reality.
As if this illness was not destructive enough already, a harrowing trend has developed in recent years, whereby the presence of eating disorders in young children has become more and more rampant. In fact, the number of children under the age of 12 who exhibit symptoms of an eating disorder has risen to the extent that anorexia and bulimia are now more common pediatric illnesses than type-2 diabetes. This is an alarming data point and combined with the reality that eating disorders are often undiagnosed or inadequately treated, this leaves many children at an increased risk for complications in both their physical growth and mental health as they become older. For this reason, it is crucial to understand how to identify the presence of eating disorders in young children, then to seek prompt and thorough intervention for them.
I have a slew of insights about understanding eating disorders for family and friends, but I often don't have the language to communicate it all. I suspect that I'm not alone in this predicament. My hunch is most people with disordered eating issues struggle to attach words to their experience. Because eating disorders are complex illnesses that oppress the body, mind and spirit, they are painful to discuss. And their secretive, withdrawn nature can make people on the outside feel confused, wounded or even angered. They might perceive the eating disorder sufferer's actions as callous, apathetic, disingenuous and selfish. But while eating disorders do perpetuate this kind of behavior, it's not indicative of the person's true character. Underneath that hard, stony facade is someone desperate to feel accepted and validated. So I need understanding--understanding about eating disorders from family and friends—and if you can relate, I encourage you to use these talking points with your loved ones too.
Building personal boundaries in eating disorder recovery helps to make the healing a priority. But when it comes to eating disorder recovery, how can you maintain effective personal boundaries, and why do those boundaries even matter in the first place? It's important to realize the purpose of having personal boundaries is not to prevent all relationships from nurturing—but to protect the safe relationships from becoming unhealthy. Constructing and asserting personal boundaries will equip you to prioritize eating disorder recovery while teaching the people you care about which behaviors toward you are appropriate and which should be re-evaluated.
Eating disorder recovery is filled with realizations; some are happy finds and some are painful ones. But we need both types of realizations to accept our imperfection and move forward in it. For over a year now, I’ve been committed to writing the Surviving ED blog for this community. I’ve loved it and it’s time for me to say goodbye. But I'm not leaving without passing on a firecracker of my most stunning realizations in eating disorder recovery.
It's important to show empathy to yourself and others in eating disorder recovery. It’s vital for our loved ones to be able to show empathy for us as we journey towards recovery. It’s also vital to be able to show empathy for ourselves because empathy will help to keep us in eating disorder recovery. Here’s how to show empathy to yourself and others in eating disorder recovery.
There are important things you don’t know about eating disorders because for many people, eating disorders are a mystery. If you’ve never had one, you may struggle to come up with anything about them. I’ve heard people fumble, “It’s when you don’t eat or think you’re fat right?” Yes and no. Eating disorders are multifaceted. They’re a mental illness many people can struggle with for life. Here’s one important thing you don’t know about eating disorders.
There’s a phrase that eating disordered people love to hear. We must be careful because this phrase can validate the person’s disorder. When you’re struggling with an eating disorder, food and body image weigh on you all day long. Your mind whispers and screams commands about food or exercise and berates you when you can’t follow them perfectly. You have a slew of unrealistic expectations for yourself to live up to. Then you must factor in other people. Sometimes the people who love us can unintentionally validate our eating disorder with this one phrase that eating disordered people love to hear.