Look around right now. You’ll realize every person you see is different, unique in monumental or even minimally apparent ways.
We come in all different shapes and sizes, and yet so many of us are left feeling ostracized or ashamed of—rather than empowered by—our differences. All around us, in ads and commercials, we’re subjected to the stereotypes of what it means to be beautiful, attractive, or desirable. And while we’re seeing more and more campaigns promoting radical self-love and body positivity, there are still far too many people—both young and old—falling down the rabbit hole in search of an unattainable level of perfection based on what they, driven by stereotypes, perceive as beautiful.
In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week I’d like to bring to light some important facts in hopes of inspiring a change in the ideals of beauty. You’ll also read about ways to work toward inner peace, self-acceptance, and self-love through treatment and recovery.
First and foremost I think it’s important to break the stigma that eating disorders are more of a “female problem.” The facts: While 20 million women in the U.S. live with an eating disorder at some point in their lives, so, too, do 10 million men. Men are also subjected to the ideals of a perfect body, and the pressure brought about from images in the media.
The world of eating disorders is hugely complex. Though there are a handful of more well-known eating disorders—such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating—there are also many that may be less heard of, but no less harmful. At their core many eating disorders involve a wholly unhealthy and distorted way of thinking in relation to weight and body image, as well as an unhealthy relationship with food.
There shouldn’t be stereotypes surrounding eating disorders, nor pigeonholed ideas as to what a person with an eating disorder looks like. While it’s true that some eating disorders lead to radical weight loss, there are others that do not, and assuming someone is or isn’t suffering based on his or her outward appearance is not only unfair, it’s ignorant as well.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, binge-eating disorder is “the most common eating disorder in the United States, affecting 3.5 percent of women, 2 percent of men, and up to 1.6 percent of adolescents.” Binge-eating disorder is marked by episodes of eating an immense amount of food in one sitting (bingeing), often, as NEDA notes, “to the point of discomfort.”
It’s also important to note that eating disorders are not always solely brought about by a goal to lose weight. According to the NEDA: “It is common for eating disorders to occur with one or more other psychiatric disorders, which can complicate treatment and make recovery more difficult.” Mood disorders often occur alongside eating disorders, and “there is a markedly elevated risk for obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
There are numerous ways to seek help and receive treatment for eating disorders. Realizing there is a problem is a very important step, though it can sometimes be difficult to admit and accept that help is needed. The NEDA offers various support options as well as a confidential, online screening.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health: “Adequate nutrition, reducing excessive exercise, and stopping purging behaviors are the foundations of treatment.” Treatment plans vary from person to person, but may include approaches such as psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, or other types of medical care or medication.
Eating disorder treatment is a topic that needs to be discussed with a trusted healthcare specialist. But note there are also alternative treatments and therapies one can consider. It is crucial to find a treatment route that fits individual needs, and to understand that what might work for some may not work for others.
Yoga therapy is an alternative treatment method that can allow one to engage with, appreciate, and learn about his or her body—what it’s capable of and how strong it truly is—while paving the way for the road to recovery. Such therapies, like the one offered at Aurora Center in New York City, focus on establishing a “safe and welcome space to nurture body awareness and acceptance, as well as the true healing of mind, body, and soul.”
Anastasia Nevin, a writer for Sonima, wrote about yoga and eating disorders, and the way in which a yoga mindset, practice, mindfulness, and meditation can prove helpful for those looking to change their disordered way of thinking and develop a new sense of consciousness. According to her article:
Holding an uncomfortable posture [during yoga practice] when the instinct is to escape allows us to notice what happens mentally when we encounter a challenging situation or begin to feel anxious off the mat. Yoga philosophy also provides us with the value of ahimsa, the practice of nonviolence, toward ourselves, our body, and others.
Research that shows the efficacy of yoga and meditation as therapies for those suffering from eating disorders may be limited. But learning more about the ways in which yoga and meditation can help shape new thoughts and build a stronger connection to the body supports that these forms of supplemental treatment shouldn’t be overlooked.
To learn more about eating disorders, treatment options, support groups, and recovery visit the National Eating Disorders Association.
Maggie Peikon is a New York native, writer, and sufferer of insatiable wanderlust. An avid endorphin seeker she has a constant need to be moving, seeking adventure in all she does. She is a lover of travel, daydreaming, fitness, thunderstorms, and her dog, Finley. Despite the fact that she has to take medication daily due to a thyroidectomy, Maggie still believes that laughter will always be the best medicine. Follow her musings on Instagram and Twitter.