When Eating Disorders Masquerade as Diets

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When Dove began their Real Beauty campaign in 2004, the advertising world did a double take. Real women? No airbrushing? What on earth were they thinking? But millions of women let out a collective sigh of relief. For Dove, it was a marketing gamble that hit home for many women who had struggled with self-image issues for years.

Suddenly, clothing designers and modeling agencies realized that the size zero women that they had been designing clothes for never really existed, or at least didn’t exist in numbers that equaled record breaking sales. They began jumping on the band wagon by designing fashions for the “curvy” woman and hiring “plus size” models. Not wearing makeup, or wearing makeup that didn’t look like you were wearing makeup, was the latest look. Women, and celebrities, began to flaunt their curves, and rightfully so.

Where Negative Self Images Start

For many, image acceptance comes with age – the older they get, the less they care about what other people think and the more comfortable they become in their own skin. But for some, the image issues that began in their teens, or even earlier, always seem to be just a mirror away. Negative body image begins within a young person’s own mind as they look in those mirrors. They may be comparing themselves to air-brushed pictures in magazines, friends they go to school with, or even worse, what bullies or others say to them.

By the time family, friends, or teachers realize that there is a problem, a life-threatening eating disorder could have already put your loved one at risk. Getting help from a professional is critical at that point;  eating disorders contribute to more deaths than any other mental health issue.

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Hiding in Plain Sight

Food is one of the most ancient forms of cultural exchange that humans have participated in. Even in religious celebrations food plays a role from fasting to feasting. Food is a key part of community, culture, and family. It even has its part in politics, when one person’s environmental beliefs impact their decision to go vegan or vegetarian. Eating disorders can come in many forms. Anorexia, binge eating, bulimia, orthorexia, and those are only the officially diagnosed disorders.

Some vegan/vegetarians made the choice because they were inspired to not harm animals, or to protest the conditions under which the meat, dairy, or egg products that show up in the grocery store aisles got there. For others it was a conscious decision, sometimes due to health concerns, to eat healthier. Others make the choice because of peer pressure, or wanting to emulate a celebrity. But for a few, it was a way for them to “hide in plain sight” an eating disorder.

Knowing What to Look For

If a “diet,” or change in eating habits, seems to have gone on far past the point of a healthy weight loss, it is time to be concerned. If your loved one (or you), still insist that they are overweight in spite of the scale saying otherwise; if there is obvious muscle wasting and a malnourished appearance; gastrointestinal issues, including constipation; changes in hair, skin, or nails; lethargy, or not having the energy to do even something requiring minimal effort; or thoughts of suicide it is time to seek immediate help.

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A treatment center can provide a recovery plan specifically designed for your loved one, and one that will help the entire family learn sound and healthy eating plans. Don’t wait for them to “grow out of it,” or pretend that it is “just nothing.” If you’ve recognized anything in this article that sounds like someone you know, or yourself, pick up the phone and get help. Let them know you care enough to make that call.

Waiting can be the difference between life, and death.

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