My articles are usually about my love for food and the joys that I derive from eating, cooking, or sharing my life with loved ones over meals. Thus, sometimes I forget that food itself, as beautiful and joyous as it is, can present problems for many people. In the late 80’s and 90’s bulimia and anorexia made their way into the limelight with actress Tracy Gold (She’s that young woman that played the older sister on that show Growing Pains). But many other food related illnesses have made their way into the headlines of late. While many of anorexia and bulimia were more rampant among middle and upper class white girls and women, these illnesses have crept into mainstream America over the last few years.
Our relationships with food are shaped very earlier on. Till this day, I find it difficult to leave food on my plate. Growing up, my mom’s motto was, clean your plate. And honestly back then, with the scarcity of food, it was hard not to clean your plate. However, living in a country like the US, it is important for us to develop new relationships with food. It is not necessary to eat all the food presented to you at a restaurant (do you see how big some of those portions at some restaurants?). The US is a country of abundance and excess, and that is manifested through food as well. Thus as parents and individuals growing up in the world, just like we are conscious of how much alcohol we drink, we do need to be mindful of our eating habits. Not all people who drink alcohol become alcoholics, but some do. And it’s a combination of people’s genetic predisposition, personality, character and external pressure that either activate or prevent disorders. While women are the prominent sufferers of eating disorders, a small number of men do experience all of them, with Overeating being the prominent one among males.
Below are 3 examples of eating disorders which I think we need to take a closer look at.
Those suffering from anorexia have a tremendous fear of being fat or being perceived as fat. Because of this they tend to diminish their eating to minimal and almost deadly levels. It is easier to recognize than some other eating disorders because the individual pretty much starves themselves, and it reflects in their appearance and weight. While weight control is the way this illness is manifested, this has been classified also as a mental disorder where the individual feels the need to control and they utilize food control as a way of doing this. Or perhaps they feel out of control and this is the one area where they do feel control.
Some of the behavioral signs can be: obsessive exercise, calorie and fat gram counting, starvation and restriction of food, self-induced vomiting, the use of diet pills, laxatives or diuretics to attempt controlling weight, and a persistent concern with body image.
Men and women suffering from Bulimia will eat a large quantity of food in a relatively short period of time and then use behaviors such as taking laxatives or self-induced vomiting — because they feel overwhelmed in coping with their emotions, or in order to punish themselves for something they feel they should unrealistically blame themselves for. This can be in direct relation to how they feel about themselves, or how they feel over a particular event or series of events in their lives. Low Self esteem is a prominent trait among most bulimics. Most bulimics, unlike anorexic experience cycles of eating and purging, while anorexic tend to be very controlled eaters, well non eaters, bulimics do eat, but the do find ways to rid themselves of the food in which they eat, so often time, they are not excessively thin, actually they often time are overweight, because of their irregular eating patterns.
Compulsive Over Eating
People suffering with Compulsive Overeating have what is characterized as an “addiction” to food, using food and eating as a way to hide from their emotions, to fill a void they feel inside, and to cope with daily stresses and problems in their lives.
People suffering with CO tend to be overweight, and they are usually aware that their eating habits are abnormal, but find little comfort because of society’s tendency to stereotype the “overweight” individual. Words like, “just go on a diet” are as emotionally devastating to a person suffering Compulsive Overeating as “just eat” can be to a person suffering Anorexia. A person suffering as a Compulsive Overeater is at health risk for a heart attack, high blood-pressure and cholesterol, kidney disease and/or failure, arthritis and bone deterioration, and stroke Because they are overweight.
They feel guilty for not being “good enough,” shame for being overweight, and generally have a very low self-esteem… they use food and eating to cope with these feelings, which only leads into the cycle of feeling them ten-fold and trying to find a way to cope again. With a low self esteem and often constant need for love and validation he/she will turn to obsessive episodes of binging and eating as a way to forget the pain and the desire for affection.
While some people are overweight because they simply like food and eat too much, often time some people use food as a way of coping with emotions, and that is when the problem arise. I think often time we are not mindful of the reasons we do things, and sometimes that can make a world of different. I remember when I was 17, I baked a cake and then sat down and ate the whole thing while watching TV. I didn’t really feel horrible about it. I knew it was unhealthy, but I also understood that I really just liked the cake and was being greedy. If I did that every Friday, or twice a week, then, I would definitely see it as problematic.
Nadege Fleurimond is the owner & business manager of Fleurimond Catering, Inc., an off-premise catering firm serving the NY/NJ/CT/MA areas. She is also the author of a Taste of Life: A Culinary Memoir, a humorous and heart warming compilation of recipes and funny anecdotes. (http://www.nadegefleurimond.com)
Please submit thoughts and questions pertaining to the column via email at email@example.com.