Body Image & Eating Disorders

Body Image

*Please also see section on ADvertising™, Media & Commercialism.

Body image is one topic that everyone can likely relate to in some way, shape or form (pun half-intended). Body image describes a person’s perception of his or her own body and/or appearances. Often times, those who struggle with image related issues have trouble looking into a mirror and seeing a reality-based reflection of themselves. When a person develops an inability to mentally picture an accurate depiction of their own body, this is called Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

When you look in the mirror, are you able to see a whole picture? Are you able to see all of you as one cohesive form, or do you see yourself in parts? Sometimes, when we look in the mirror, our eyes go immediately to areas of our body that bring us the most discomfort and insecurity. Whether it’s the dimple in your chin, your so-called ‘big’ nose, your arms, hips, stomach, legs – you name it, and I guarantee there’s a person (more like millions of people) who share your very same insecurities.

Why do we have these insecurities? Did we develop them on our own? What about our parents, family and guardians? Most of us grew up in households filled with more than just lessons on morality and life, but conversations of what makes a person attractive and accepted by society. Being exposed to negative body talk, especially from someone you look to for guidance, can leave an impression to last a lifetime. Perhaps your peers in school talked about physical appearances, comparing one classmate to the next. Or maybe your mom never wore sleeveless tops because she thought her arms were ‘too big’ to expose. These are all hugely impressionable moments in our lives, and when you tack on the media’s role in shaping us, the battle begins to feel lost from the start.

For a moment, let’s discuss Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). When most people think of BDD, they usually think of those suffering from an eating disorder (ED) and those who have distorted notions of what they look like. There’s a reason this is a common perception, because in most cases, this is absolutely true. A huge part of the treatment process for bulimia and anorexia patients includes re-learning one’s perception of his or her body.

In photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield’s documentary ‘THIN,’ one young woman struggling to recover from an ED is asked to draw how she perceives her body’s size and shape on a huge blank sheet of paper pinned to the wall. She takes a marker and draws the outline of what she believes is closest to her silhouette. The therapist then asks her to stand against the wall and traces the actual silhouette of the girl within the lines of the original drawing. Not surprisingly, as the girl steps away from the wall, we are left with two very different depictions of the her body size – the actual one being a great deal smaller than what she had perceived herself to look like.

If you would like to look into ‘THIN,’ please be warned that for some ED sufferers, the footage in the film may be triggering.

Here is a clip from the scene described above:

Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating

For more specific information on eating disorders, please visit the following organizations:, and

The delicate issue of eating disorders (EDs) is often mishandled by the media and by the general public mostly because worldwide awareness is not where it should be. When a person suffering from anorexia is reduced to the single phrase, ‘Someone feed her a sandwich,’ we must realize that we’ve missed a step somewhere along the way. Truth be told, many people do not realize that having such a frivolous attitude when addressing eating disorders might come across as insensitive or hurtful. That’s where we, as ALLIES™ and advocates, come in. Not only must we spread awareness in order to increase prevention efforts, but to help people better understand the intricacy of various forms of EDs.

EDs are often thought of and portrayed as being very clear-cut and easy to diagnose – an assertion that couldn’t be further from the truth. According to the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition), there are three main categories of eating disorder (ED) – Anorexia Nervosa (AN), Bulimia Nervosa (BN) and Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). If you were to ask many of the professionals within the field of eating disorder treatment and research, they would likely tell you that things are not quite so black and white. Under the umbrella of ‘EDNOS’ resides a colorful array of various abnormal eating habits that have not been given their own status as an ED. It is not uncommon for a person with EDNOS to display symptoms of multiple EDs simultaneously.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED), sometimes thought of more as a ‘disordered eating’ issue, is categorized under EDNOS and is treated by most as if it were its own recognized ED category. ED advocacy groups have been hard at work to get the DSM-V (due in 2013) to be more inclusive and represent a broader spectrum of disorders and issues as our understanding of EDs continues to expand.

I don’t hide the fact that I am in recovery from anorexia and bulimia. For years, I suffered in silence. On the outside, I tried to appear put-together and stable, but behind closed doors, my secret life was hell on earth. Day in and day out, I abused my body with self-destructive behaviors, desperately trying to achieve physical perfection and numb the inner turmoil and pain I was experiencing. I felt so alone. My life felt out of control, so I sought out a way to control it.

The only way I felt I could gain control in my life was to do it through micromanaging my appearances, my food and my weight. It is often this feeling of enhanced self-control that people seek from an ED, which is ironic considering the control does not belong to the ED sufferer, but to the disorder itself. EDs offer a false sense of security and control, ultimately catching its victims in a downward spiral as he or she gets deeper and deeper into the disorder. I starved myself, binged and purged multiple times a day, abused diet pills, over-exercised and got used to feeling as though the distinction between consciousness and unconsciousness was nothing more than a blurred mess. I can’t recall at exactly what point I realized things were out of my control, but I had become stuck in a never-ending cycle day after day. I was a slave to my disorder.

For definitions and information on specific eating disorders, please visit the National Eating Disorders Association website:

Addiction or Not?

Many professionals within the treatment and medical community will argue that an eating disorder is not a type of addiction. As someone who battled with both anorexia and bulimia, I personally believe eating disorders CAN be a form of addiction and should be treated as such. Thanks to progressive research, we are beginning to see more evidence supporting such a connection. In studies, research has shown the impact of illnesses like anorexia can have extremely detrimental effects not only on one’s physical health, but brain health as well. With prolonged starvation, studies have shown that depriving the body of calories and nutrients forces the body to go into starvation mode. The longer one experiences food deprivation, the closer he or she gets to experiencing what researchers have found is an actual physiological change in their brain chemistry leading to the repetition of unhealthy, compulsive behaviors.

In making the comparison of EDs and substance abuse, consider this – The body does not need whiskey to stay alive, but it does need food. There are concrete ways that an alcoholic can attempt to avoid situations where he or she may feel triggered or vulnerable. For ED sufferers, they are put face to face with their substance of choice multiple times a day. This is what truly makes EDs so difficult to heal from.

I, for one, having experienced these illnesses, can say that I felt very much out of control. Not only did I feel like my life depended on the continuation of my ED, but I literally felt like I had no choice but to compulsively repeat potentially fatal behaviors. Every night, I went to sleep hoping that the next day would be different… that I’d be able to resist my ED. Sadly, most days ended up the same as the last. It wasn’t until I reached rock bottom that I made a conscious decision to change my life. I needed some kind of drastic intervention before I could truly begin my road to recovery.

Addiction, in general, is a term that RRW™ believes refers to both the physical and psychological dependence on a substance or behavior. It’s important to state that there is a great deal of debate within eating disorder treatment, medical and research communities regarding this issue. Views expressed here should be considered those of RRW™ and not the only perspective available on such topics.

Disordered Eating

*Please note that the term ‘disordered eating’ may have entirely different meanings depending on where and who is using it. The following is how RRW™ defines disordered eating.

A category referred to as ‘Disordered Eating’ encompasses those whose eating patterns are inconsistent or unhealthy but who are not to a point of warranting a full ED diagnosis.

There are a seemingly endless number of ways in which a person may develop an unhealthy or abnormal relationship with food. At some point, you have to ask yourself, what is normal anyway? ‘Normal eating’ doesn’t look the same for every person. We each have different needs, different genes and varied lifestyles. Being able to make the distinction between an official eating disorder diagnosis and disordered eating can be difficult. When does someone who restricts or obsessively monitors his or her body and caloric intake cross over the line from eating disordered to disorder?

Recent studies have shown that a majority of females engage in some type of disordered eating behaviors. The findings aren’t meant to blanket statement and over exaggerate these issues, but to serve as a subtle call to take our health more seriously. Maybe you skip meals every now and again or go just a little too long without eating. Perhaps you’ve developed your own good foods vs. bad foods ‘rules’ that have gone a bit too far and by trying to abide by them you are kept from enjoying a full, wholesome diet. Or perhaps, sometimes, you eat not when you’re hungry, but when you feel sad, alone, bored, angry, disappointed, scared, unsettled, etc... etc… etc… These are all patterns that, if repeated and increased, could lead to an actual diagnosis. Thankfully, that doesn’t have to be the outcome.

While the inadequacy of the diets of those with disordered eating may not always reach the severity of a full-blown eating disorder, their behaviors can often be just as dangerous and unhealthy. Consequentially, this is why it is such a crucial time for changes to take place in an effort to prevent symptoms from worsening and further developing into an ED.

As your advocates here at RRW™ will say time and again, balance is key. Unless it is for legitimate medical reasons or because you know certain foods are trigger foods for you, saying no to ‘bad foods’ or an entire food group is unnecessary (and that includes ‘junk food’). Like we said… balance.

For more information on Disordered Eating, please go to:

The Disordered Eating Epidemic:!/note.php?note_id=133334771707

Health For the Whole

Thin Privilege

There is such a thing as ‘Thin Privilege’ – the idea that those within society who fit into more standardized molds (re: weight and body shape) are at an actual advantage to those who do not. Thin privilege exists. There is no disputing the fact that women above ‘average’ weight (whatever that means) often face a very real form of discrimination. Negative stereotypes are attached to women of size, unfairly labeling them lazy or without self-control. This stigma is one of the strongest and least talked about forms of discrimination that still exists today.

One of the most crucial points to get across to our audience and ALLIES™ is the fact that everyone’s body image struggles are of equal importance. A young woman who is drastically underweight and malnourished may struggle with great fears of being perceived as overweight. To her, her distorted perceptions are reality. On the other hand, a woman’s fears of being ridiculed and unfairly judged for her larger size are just as valid and just as challenging. We mustn’t diminish the experience of another human being. As they say, to each his or her own.

The ‘…orexia’ Labeling Trend (the legit and the not so legit)

Pregorexia – Tanorexia – Bigorexia – Drunkorexia – Diabulimia – Othororexia – Manorexia

Those within the eating disorder and body image advocacy circles have been inundated with having to decipher the relevancy and legitimacy of an ever-growing list of ‘…orexia’ labels thought up and made trendy by media and followers of pop culture. For those with diagnosed EDs, this can feel both minimizing and frustrating. Sometimes, these trendy, ED-originated words terms are used fairly loosely and as ill-mannered slang, but there are other times when they are in specific reference to someone with an ED.

It’s not that someone who compulsively visits the tanning salon isn’t doing harm to his or her body, but is this an appropriate word pairing? The part that ‘tanorexia’ borrows from anorexia is the body dysmorphia. When someone lacks an ability to look in a mirror and see themselves as ever being tan enough, that is distorted thinking. But is it also minimizing the severity of full-blown EDs simply to attempt to label another unhealthy habit?

While still pop slang, other labels have a closer tie to EDs in that they usually describe the nature of one’s ED. For instance, ‘Drunkorexia’ refers to a person who seeks to heavily restrict their food intake and instead consumes calories in the form of alcoholic beverages. What is really at play is someone struggling with an ED and possible alcoholism. ‘Bigorexia’ is a term mainly attached to men who have another type of body dysmorphia and feel a need to continually build greater muscle mass.

Let’s examine the term ‘pregorexia.’ It is not generally a term used in clinical settings, but has been used in other circles in reference to pregnant women who also have coinciding issues regarding weight control, eating disorders and poor body image during the gestation of their pregnancy. Pregnancy is a particularly difficult time for females with a vulnerability to low self-esteem and poor body image because of the changes it brings to a woman’s body. Being responsible for caring for another life and providing proper nutrition may seem like an easy decision to carry out, but sadly, a severe ED has the ability to render a woman emotionally and psychologically disabled by her fear. It’s not that she doesn’t want to take care of her child, but her fear of gaining weight supersedes nearly everything else, taking away her ability to remain in control and make sound decisions.

In our opinion, the focus needs to be on the actual issues at hand – the addictions and disorders – not terms media and pop culture think up.

On to Orthorexia… While it may not be officially listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, increasingly more clinicians are beginning to refer to this as yet another way women and men are using food as a tool to ‘control’ their lives more strictly. And just as it is with any other ED, Orthorexia isn't about the food, but desperate measures to gain control and mask one's more internalized pain.

So, what is Orthorexia exactly? In 1997, Dr. Steven Bratman, M.D. coined the term ‘Orthorexia’ in reference to people whose lives had become overly obsessed with the quality and healthfulness of the food they consumed. The name was taken from the Greek word ortho, meaning straight and correct. Today, while Bratman's term may remain relatively unknown to most people, references to ‘health-nuts’ and ‘health food junkies’ are hardly new to us, by any means! Dr. Bratman argues that the danger comes in when a person begins to obsessively restructure their lives around food in order to improve his or her health, which may eventually lead to social and emotional suffering from his or her abnormally strict diet and lifestyle.

While Orthorexia may not put sufferers' health in immediate or obvious jeopardy in the way that other ED's might, the anxiety and rigidity of an orthorexic's life can often take a toll on his or her mental health and ultimately, their physical health. ED clinicians and professionals have appeared to either embrace the implications within Bratman's arguments or reject their validity all together. Opponents argue that little time should be spent worrying about the potential dangers in Orthorexia when most Americans are facing ‘greater’ problems with obesity, Type II Diabetes and other related conditions. After all, what harm can be done if more people are following healthier lifestyles? OK, let’s go there.

From personal experience, I believe that my own eating disorder stemmed from an obsession with healthy living and eating, an anxiety that eventually took control of me and launched me into the depths of depression and a secretive life driven around my anorexia and bulimia. In fact, not only would I say that my disorders stemmed from my ‘healthy obsessions,’ but I'd go so far as to say that I was able to cover up my secret life by reassuring family and friends that I was ‘just being a health nut.’

There is nothing wrong with health-conscious folks improving their lives with exercise and nutritious foods, but there is certainly a problem when it takes over one's life.

Balance your life.


Men, Body Image & Eating Disorders

While it may be true that eating disorders affect significantly more women than men, that does not mean that men’s struggles should be taken any less seriously. Not only are men less likely to admit to having a problem with body image and food, but they are also much less likely to seek treatment. This is due, in large part, to the various stereotypes that often come with being a male with an eating disorder – the fear of being seen as unmasculine or the myth that only women or gay men develop them.

Whether his goal is to attain a more muscular build, seek acceptance from those around him, to lose the weight and memory of being teased as an overweight kid or to conform to the weight and body standards placed on a male athlete of a particular sport, men and eating disorders is a very real issue. In fact, it is more important now than ever to spread awareness and prevention as we are now witnessing a steady increase in men with such disorders.

For more information on men and eating disorders, please visit:

Men Get EDs Too:

National Association for Eating Disorders (NEDA):

Beating Eating Disorders (Beat UK):