What Does an Eating Disorder Look Like?

February 28, 2017 • Eating Disorder, Health, Mental Health, National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, NEDA, Recovery, Self Care, Wedding • Views: 1857

As an advocate for eating disorder awareness and recovery, as well as women’s health through the American Heart Association, I share my story – a lot. More times than I can count, I’ll mention the fact that I’ve lost weight, or that am in recovery for an eating disorder, or both. Someone will stop me and ask, “But, if you had an eating disorder before, how did you end up losing more weight living a healthy lifestyle?”

You see, there’s this common misconception that eating disorders are only present when someone is severely underweight, and that is not at all true.

An eating disorder can occur in ANY situation where an individual has a deeply-rooted, psychological and often psychiatric disorder in their relationship to food. There are many types of eating disorders, and no two cases, even of the same diagnosis, look the same.

Anorexia nervosa is typically what most people think of in regards to eating disorder, but there are many other variants of disordered eating that manifest differently – and different eating disorders can coexist to further complicate the physical signs. Bulimia, for instance, can easily co-exist with a long-term food addiction OR anorexia OR both. There is also a lesser-known disorder known as orthorexia, which is obsessive healthy eating. (I see this one crop up a lot in the performance running community.)

For most of my college career, I struggled with bulimia, paired with food addiction and periodic stretches of anorexia. While I DID purge, abuse laxatives and force myself to do unhealthy fasting, I gained weight. Unhealthy and obsessive countermeasures could never offset the amount of emotional eating I was doing.

Flash forward to my life now: I’m more than 5 years into recovery, 4 of those years without any form of purging. I lead a (generally) healthy lifestyle, with moderation between healthy eating and treats. I’ve run 5 half marathons (although I only completed 4 of them) and am looking to run my first full marathon in October of this year. I have a demanding job which I love, something I could never do if I weren’t properly fueled and caring for myself. I’m getting married to the love of my life in April, and I feel good about how I’ll look on the big day – not because I’ve lost weight gained during my eating disorder, but because I’ve learned to love my body and stabilize my relationship with it and the food that nourishes it.

Kelly and her fiancé during an engagement photo session. Photo credit: Two Arrows Photo

I can’t undo some of the damage done during my battle with bulimia and associated disorders – but I CAN raise awareness that not all eating disorders look the same. Not every person struggling is a model-thin girl. Sometimes, it’s the girl who can’t seem to stop eating. Sometimes it’s the guy who seems oversensitive about eating in front of others. Sometimes it’s the person who disappears for a while after every meal, like I did during the worst of my addiction.

To learn more about the major eating disorders and possible signs, you can view NEDA’s list of recognized eating disorders and their symptoms.

If a loved one is exhibiting signs of an eating disorder, even if they don’t fit what you think a stereotypical disordered eater should look like, learn more. Research. Find help. The reality is that we are often hidden in plain sight, and we could use your love and support to recover and go on to lead happy, healthy lives.

Kelly Rivard is a regular Body Boop blogger, and a 20-something digital strategist living in Kansas City with her fiancé, two dogs, a bird, a lizard, a hedgehog and several fish. You can follow her on Twitter or on her Facebook page Crazy Fit.

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