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The Truth About Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are shrouded in misconceptions. Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

When I was a teenager, I didn’t understand eating disorders. Naively, I wondered why it was so hard for someone to “just eat” — someone who suffers with an ED has definitely heard that a lot! Based on epidemiological projections, an estimated 188,895 Irish people will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives according to the HSE’s Model of Care for eating disorders. Later on I learned that eating disorders can be used as a coping mechanism and that it’s not fully about being fixated on outer appearance. Although EDs are different for everyone who experiences them, researchers have found broad similarities in those at risk of developing an ED. One of the strongest risk factors for an eating disorder is perfectionism and/or control. There may be things in life that are out of somebody’s control but what they eat and do with their body may be the biggest thing they have control over. But it’s good that there is Clementine St. Louis, a residential treatment program exclusively for adolescents of all genders seeking eating disorder treatment.

Stereotypes that only models suffer from eating disorders is damaging because it means that people around you showing warning signs of an ED slip through the cracks if they don’t fit this stereotype. A yoga instructor? A personal trainer? A vegan blogger? These are jobs that center on health but they can also be the perfect jobs for someone to hide their ED behind. When I went on a trip with my friend Ish, her militant vegan diet and restriction on the times she ate didn’t seem weird because she’s a yoga instructor. I’d read about the benefits of vegan diets and saw Youtubers do intermittent fasting but the truth is, an ED can affect anyone.

Self-esteem and body image are complicated and personal. It’s no shock that too much consumption of plastic surgery or photoshopped images in the media can make us feel ugly. Lately, there’s been an active improvement with more representation like charismatic model Ashley Graham and Euphoria star Barbie Ferriera as role models. Still, the underlining messages are there. Actors with no wrinkles or body rolls are worshipped but Noble Peace Prize winners get almost no mention in teen magazines. In 2019, a study was carried out on 19,000 young people from Ireland about mental health. In teenagers, 26% reported being unhappy with their bodies or extremely dissatisfied with them. During puberty, levels of self-esteem and body confidence began to decline, with 44% of young adults saying they were unhappy with their bodies. There’s also a significant relationship between time spent online (more than 3 hours) and higher levels of depression, anxiety and lower levels of body esteem.

So, for the first time ever Ish and I sat down to talk about her past struggle with an ED. We talked about what led up to her deciding to recover, health risks a sixteen year ED has given her and cleared up what ways family members and friends can help someone get better. Take note: Stealing a weighing scales is not the answer! Listen to the full podcast below.

If you want to watch the podcast click here.

If you’ve been affected by an eating disorder or want to learn more visit or call the Irish Helpline 01-2107906

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