Tag Archives: national eating disorders week

overeating – a neglected eating disorder

unhealthy habits and demographic changes are combining to place an unprecedented burden on the health-care system that may not be manageable, the heart and stroke foundation said in its 2010 annual report on canadians’ health.

so says the CBC about an alarming increase in heart disease and the potential for heart disease, adding `most of this is preventable.” the solution is

encouraging canadians to be more physically active, eat a healthy diet and be aware of their risk factors for heart disease.

“we all eat from stress, or because we don’t have time to prepare things,” said cheryl shapiro, a heart patient in toronto who was diagnosed with high blood pressure eight years ago.

she encourages people to read labels. “we don’t realize what we’re putting in our bodies.”

it is difficult to fit in the recommended minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least three times a week, shapiro said, but she does walk her dog regularly.

part of the solution is to create infrastructure to make it easier for people to walk to the store rather than driving everywhere to avoid exercise, abramson said.

“it’s easy to take shortcuts,” abramson said. “but in the long run, those shortcuts will be disastrous for our health.

there was a bit more about this on the radio but the gist was the same. what i found interesting – always find interesting about such news stories – is that obesity and being overweight is almost exclusively seen as a lifestyle choice. the equation of overweight = fat = out of control, unattractive, lazy, weak-willed etc. is not made explicitly but it’s really just three letters away. indeed, when i looked at the first five or six pages of the comments, i saw the word “lazy” six times. neither in the story nor in the comment pages did i see the word “eating disorder” or “addiction”.

i often get the feeling that in the world of psychiatric diagnoses, anorexia is much more noble than overeating. the overly thin person who uses her will power to deny herself a piece of broccoli is so much more appealing in our culture than the slob who sits in front of his TV, gobbling ice cream. of course both are caricatures and tell only a very, very thin slice of reality (for example, you could have two very similar looking people side by side, one of them struggling with undereating, the other with overeating. it doesn’t always show in the body size.)

there is controversy in the psych community over whether overeating is an addiction. i must say that i find NEDIC‘s approach in can i be addicted to food? just as naive as the above article. it ends up saying “once we begin eating in a normal, healthy way again, we won’t have the same desire to eat as much high-calorie, high-carbohydrate food, or foods we think are “bad”.” that sounds really easy, doesn’t it?

now of course “addiction” is just a label, so let’s not split hairs here (although personally i am firmly on the side of gabor mate’s definition of addiction, which would agree with the use of the word in connection with overeating). rather, let’s be clear on this:

there are many people who eat much more than they want to and are unhappy about it. they try and try and try and nothing seems to work. they experience things like this: they cry during binges because they hate that they are eating non-stop. they go to bed night after night with terrible stomach pains because they have eaten too much. they eat out of garbage bins, eat frozen and spoiled food. they go to great pains to hide their eating from others, often ordering nothing but a little salad when they go out with others. they go from macdonald’s to burger king to wendy’s, pretending they are buying for a family. they spend thousands of dollars on diets that work for a while and then go back to bingeing. they commit suicide over the shame they feel over their out-of-control eating.

this is not a little lifestyle problem that will go away with a bit of education and an admonishment to use more willpower. many people who overeat know a lot about nutrition already and know they should exercise more, just like many people who smoke know what their lungs look like. they are deeply unhappy that willpower doesn’t seem to work. my best friend’s mother, an astonishingly intelligent woman, died of lung cancer, greedily sucking on a cigarette just before she went into her last coma. while not every person who is overweight suffers with such intensity, there are nevertheless similarities. overeating, for many, is a disfiguring, depressing, despairing dis-ease that is difficult to fight. i wish that this will be acknowledged more in the coming years. come to think of it, MentalHealthCamp, our second conference on the intersection between social media and mental health, will be a great way to address this.

(this is another post for national eating disorders week)

eating disorders, depression and perfectionism

by now you must have cottoned on to the fact that i really like therese borchard’s beyond blue: surviving depression and anxiety and making the most of bad genes.

one of the things she talks about in that book is her run-ins with eating disorders. in the chapter BMI (body mass issues) – depression in my thighs she mentions a number of writers in the field. for example cherry boone o’neill and her book starving for attention

in my early years i equated my worth as a person with the level of my performance and i felt that the love and approval of other people would be conditioned upon my perfection. therefore, i expended every effort to be the best i could possibly be in any given area of endeavour, only to repeatedly fall short of my goals and risk losing value in the eyes of others. trying even harder, only to miss the mark again, resulted in compounded guilt and self hatred.

therese then draws the connection between eating disorders and depression, citing dr. raymond depaulo from johns hopkins who observes that young women with eating disorders also tend to suffer from depression. it’s interesting to hear therese compare the two experiences:

i asked a veteran nurse which illness – an eating disorder or a mood disorder – is harder to overcome.

“an eating disorder, hands down,” he said. “because you have to eat to stay alive, and so it’s always there. you are always confronting your behaviour.” butter, flour, and friends are always at the table sprouting horns.

depression has bullied me much more than an eating disorder, and i’d take anorexia or bulimia any day over the intense suicidal thoughts i experienced for eighteen months later in life. but before giving birth and whacking out my brain chemistry, i did get to enjoy several years symptom-free of depression. there were many days i didn’t even think about my mood! but to this day the eating disorder is still there. at every meal.

in the next chapter, she talks about the perfectionism that we mentioned earlier.

like practically every other depressive i know, perfectionism can cripple my efforts to live freely and happily, not to mention plague me with writer’s block. left unattended, perfectionism will build a prison around me so that every shot at expressing myself is thwarted by the fear of not getting it right.

one of the people who helps her with that is her editor. she reminds her of something that goes for all of us, whether we’re depressed, deal with eating disorders, are writers, or whatever else. she constantly reminds her to

to write from wherever i am, not from where i want to be, because the journey – full of backward steps – is what makes material real and most helpful.

finally, she quotes anna quindlen:

perfection is static, even boring. your unvarnished self is what is wanted.

a song for anorexia

this week is eating disorders week.  to start it off, here is a song one of my twitter contacts wrote for someone who was struggling with this difficult, often life threatening disorder (the fourth song, “you are not alone”)

and the lyrics:

you are not alone
music & lyrics by bob gray © october 22, 2003

there is a light, beyond the darkness
there is pain, inside us all.
sometimes we trip, on the roads we travel
as we reach up, sometimes we fall
and though sometimes, i know you’re lonely
with all my heart, i need you to know…

chorus:
you are not alone… i stand by your side.
with so many others, who hide, as you hide.
with all my heart, i hope you will hear me
you are not alone… you are not alone…

there is a peace, that you can get to
it will be hard, but you’ll be fine.
i’ll walk with you, in case you stumble
reach out your hand, i’ll give you mine
and though sometimes, you may be frightened
with all my heart, i want you to know…

repeat chorus:

bridge: (with choir)

but, beyond the hurt… beyond frustration…
beyond the mountains, we all must climb
there is the dawn, of a new tomorrow
the dawn of hope… i hope we find…

repeat chorus: (with choir)