Can’t you just eat is a common question in today’s society. As a Registered Dietitian, food, and eating are near and dear to my heart! I love being able to work with girls and women to help them heal their relationship with food. However, it is vital to remember that eating disorders aren’t really about the food. Although an eating disorder puts significant focus on food, healing from one is not as simple as “just eat!”
Someone with an eating disorder may spend a lot of time thinking about food. We all need to spend some time thinking about food, even if that’s just a few minutes deciding what we want to eat for our next meal or snack. However, someone with an eating disorder spends much of her day thinking about food, perhaps not only planning the next meal or snack, but questioning that plan, plan again, and then repeating. She then may reflect on what she ate, maybe regretting it and figuring out how to “make up” for eating, and so much more. Sometimes friends and loved ones just can’t understand why these decisions around food take so much thought, leaving them to ask, “Why can’t she just eat and move forward?”
Eating disorders are not a choice, they are a serious mental health condition. They are complex and multi-layered, making someone unable to properly nourish their body. Individuals suffering from an eating disorder could eat a meal, but still be battling with their disorder in their mind. An eating disorder can engulf someone into feeling fear, shame, and anxiety. For example, for someone suffering from anorexia, asking them why they won’t eat can trigger them to feel shame for their eating disorder.
Why Does the Eating Disorder Exist?
At Selah House, we have clients explore the purpose or purposes an eating disorder serves for them. Learning and knowing this helps them, as well as family and friends, better understand what needs the eating disorder fulfills and therefore, how to best treat it. Some of those possible functions of the eating disorder may include:
- Expresses emotion
- Provides a distraction from a more difficult issue that doesn’t appear to have a solution
- Helps them deal with uncomfortable emotions such as anger or sadness or numbs those emotions
- Relieves or manages stress
- Suppresses traumatic memories
- Gives a sense of comfort or familiarity
Sometimes eating disorders can be best understood as an irrational and unhealthy means of pursuing reasonable and healthy goals. The trickiest part for those with an eating disorder and their loved ones is that when it began, it may have seemed healthy and rational. Perhaps a little dieting or weight loss seemed fine or even healthy and appropriate. However, as the eating disorder takes over, it becomes unhealthy and irrational, and family and friends may have more difficulty understanding why it continues, even in the face of complications.
Can Eating Disorders Be Treated?
Eating disorders are life-threatening illnesses that affect every aspect of health including physical, mental, social, and spiritual health. Physical effects of eating disorders often receive the most attention and can include:
- Cardiac damage
- Lab abnormalities
- Pulse shifts
- Decreased heart rate
The challenging thing in some cases is that the human body has an incredible ability to adapt, at least for a while. Some people with eating disorders see more significant effects in other areas of their health before they see physical effects. Relationships may be negatively affected due to the time it takes to engage in the eating disorder or shame experienced as part of it. It might be hard to concentrate or remember things due to malnutrition or due to the distraction of the eating disorder. When food and eating start to impact other areas of our lives negatively, it is time to seek help.
Do you need help?
Eating disorders can be treated, and residential treatment at Selah House provides clients with Christ-centered eating disordered treatment that focuses on the individual and not the symptoms. As part of our holistic approach, we provide evidenced-based treatment interventions such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Clients also collaborate with other women struggling with an eating disorder in group therapy sessions, which offer an opportunity to learn and process together. Group members learn they are not alone in their struggle and develop compassion and empathy for themselves and each other.
As a family member or friend, it is more than acceptable to let someone know you are worried about them. Moreover, stress that you love and support them. If someone you love is experiencing distress around food and eating, talk to a doctor or therapist. Reach out for help. The answer to can’t you just eat is likely much more difficult than “just eat.” In fact, reach out to our staff today at 866-324-8081.
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11