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Facing Your Fear of Eating

“Anorexia is a real disease. The choice you do have is asking for help.” – Ginger Zee

Eating Disorders: An Epidemic

One of the most globally known types of mental health illnesses is eating disorders. In fact, it is estimated that in the United States there are at least 30 million people, spanning across all ages, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds that suffer from an eating disorder. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, “eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness”. This is a striking statistic as it proves both the prevalence and urgency to understand its effect on the human race.

There are 6 common types of eating disorders:

  1. Anorexia Nervosa
    1. Limited food intake
    2. View themselves as being overweight, even when they are actually underweight
  2. Bulimia Nervosa
    1. Go through periods of binging large quantities of food, and then purging
    2. Fear of gaining weight and looking overweight, when they are actually at a normal weight
  3. Binge Eating Disorder
    1. Go through periods of binging large quantities of food, like bulimia, however there is no purging involved
  4. Pica
    1. The desire to crave and consume non-food items, some of which can be quite dangerous to digest
    2. Examples include hair, paint, and paper
  5. Rumination Disorder
    1. The act of regurgitating already digested food and either spitting it out or chewing it up more and re-swallowing it
  6. Avoidant or Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
    1. Having a lack of interest in food due to its smell, texture, or taste
    2. People suffering from ARFID tend to be underweight due to the act of avoiding food

Anorexia Defined

Anorexia Nervosa is the most familiar and commonly known type of eating disorder. In fact, anorexia is the third most common type of chronic illness among adolescents, particularly young girls. As mentioned above, anorexia is an emotional and psychological disorder that is illustrated in the act of dismissing food or showing a lack of interest in eating. Simply put, anorexia in essence is the fear of eating.

Symptoms of anorexia include:

  • Belief that you are overweight, when you are either at a normal or below normal weight
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Refusal to eat
  • Denial of being hungry, even when the body is experiencing starvation
  • Heightened awareness of body image, size, and perceived flaws
  • Creating excuses and reasons for not eating or skipping meals
  • Measuring or weighing food on a scale
  • Obsession with calorie counting
  • When a person suffering from anorexia does decide to eat, they typically eat the same few “safe” foods that are low in fat, carbs, and calories
  • Often accompanied by other mental illness(s)
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Addiction
    • Mood disorders

Reasons Why People Become Anorexic

People can develop anorexia at any point in their life. For some, it may be an innate view of oneself from a young age, or it may develop later in life and over time due to environmental factors and/or experiences. Some people may use their fear of eating as a form of self punishment. Some of the reasons why people may develop a fear of eating are as follows:

  • Body-dysmorphic disorder
    • Obsession with body image and appearance flaws
  • Used a method of coping for:
    • Depression
    • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Low self-esteem
  • The desire to strive for perfectionism
  • Social pressures
    • Peers are too skinny
    • Friends are overly aware of food intake and calorie counting
    • Pressure to look and act like your peers 
  • Celebrity pressures
    • Unrealistic portrayals of models and celebrities on magazine covers and other media outlets
  • Social Media
    • Instagram photos and filters that make people look unrealistically thin 
  • Competition
    • Sports
      • Wrestling, gymnastics, runners, cheerleading
    • Dance
      • Ballerinas
  • Cibophobia
    • The fear of specific types of food due to their texture, taste, and/or upcoming expiration dates
    • Could lead to having a fear of too many foods that you begin to avoid eating all together

Complications of Anorexia

A fear of eating can create consequent concerns that can affect a person’s entire being and lifestyle. It is important to be aware of some of these concerns if you or someone you know might be suffering from anorexia.

Physical Health Concerns:

  • Development of osteoporosis
  • Heart issues
  • Infertility and menstrual cycle disruption
  • Neurological issues
  • Development of anemia
  • Muscle weakness
  • Bone density loss
  • Insomnia
  • Poor circulation

Mental Health Concerns:

  • Mental fogginess and dizzy spells
  • Depression
  • Development of other self-destructive behaviors
    • Addiction (alcohol and/or drug use)
    • Self-mutilation (cutting, burning)
  • Avoidance of social interactions and situations all together, especially if they involve food or eating
  • Trouble maintaining relationships 
    • Peers
    • Family
    • Romantics partners
    • Professional relationships
  • Developing additional insecurities

Tips for Overcoming Anorexia

It is critical, for both the physical and psychological health, of a person suffering from anorexia to develop healthy habits to help combat the disease. If you or someone you know is suffering from anorexia nervosa, refer to any and/or all of the tips below for overcoming this illness:

  1. Seek professional help
  2. Spend time doing things you love to do and that make you feel good about yourself in order to distract yourself from negative self thoughts
  3. Acknowledge that your fear of food is not healthy
  4. Develop a positive mindset with regards to food
  5. Join a cooking class
  6. Find new hobbies
  7. Work with a nutritionist
  8. Drink water to stay hydrated
  9. Try snacking throughout the day
  10. Exercise
  11. Meditate
  12. Breathe
  13.  Join group therapy to find community
  14. Make an effort to not look in the mirror all the time
  15. Reach out for support from friends and family
  16. Accept yourself, even your flaws
  17. Increase your self esteem
  18. Journal
  19. Be patient with yourself
  20. Love yourself

One thought on “Facing Your Fear of Eating

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