Reprinted from "Eating Disorders" issue of Visions Journal, 2002, No. 16, p. 2
Disordered eating is not about food. Of course, the individuals affected — mostly girls and women, but an increasing number of men — do struggle with food, but the real struggle is usually about something else.
The contributors to the current issue point to a number of factors. Some are broad societal issues, like the pressure applied by the ‘appearance industry’ to be thin. This puts women from cultures where food plays a prominent role in a position of particular conflict.
Some pressures operate more directly at the individual level, such as our discomfort with emotions, coupled with a psychological need for control. Rather than deal with emotions directly, women with disordered eating speak of controlling those emotions — using words like ‘numbing’ — through controlling food.
Some of our contributors link eating disorders to other clinical issues, pointing out a connection, for instance, between eating disorders and anxiety, obsessive behaviour, trauma, or addiction.
And, as many of our contributors point out, while disordered eating or eating disorders can be looked at as ‘illnesses,’ they are also coping strategies that help individuals deal with the other issues we’ve pointed to (loss of control, difficulties with emotion, pressure to be thin or perfect, for instance). This means we can’t simply “treat” disordered eating without working with individuals to deal with these underlying issues.
The resources available in this province increasingly reflect this developing understanding of eating disorders; but we haven’t gone far enough, and the experience of accessing care — for both individuals and their families — is too often as grueling as the eating disorder itself.
Fortunately, there is a growing movement of people who want to change things. These are the people who deal most closely with these issues on a day-to-day basis: clients, caregivers, members of community organizations, clinicians, and researchers. We thank all of these individuals for continuing their efforts to improve things, and for their contributions to this edition of Visions.