Beyond dis-ease and dis-order: a human approach to understanding eating disorders

“It’s about shame, disgust, and losing every sense of dignity. About darkness, silence and secrecy. It’s about sadness, loneliness, anger and fear. About not being able to express myself or how I feel, and having no boundaries or protection. Basically, it’s about not knowing how to just sit, feel and breathe through whatever difficult thought or emotion – without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it. It’s about looking for safety and comfort in all the wrong directions, and relying on self-destruction in order to live and survive.” (Marsman, 2014).

Eating disorders are about so many different things for so many different people; but they are never just about food, or weight, or size.

At least, not for the human being actually dealing with it, that is.
Ask random people on the street, objective scientists or clinicians, and they might very well argue differently. To them, as to most who don’t base their knowledge on personal experience with mental suffering and emotional pain, eating disorders are indeed just about eating and being preoccupied with weight.

To many, it concerns emaciated girls and women, an extreme obsession with thinness and an ungraspable fear to eat and get fat. We all heard of anorexia nervosa, we’ve looked at the pictures in the media with fascination or disgust, and have observed this one girl in the gym that seems to be shrinking by the day. With bulimia nervosa most have less experience, but usually people do know it has to do with binge eating and throwing up. Not exceptionally, bulimia is thought to be far less serious and is regarded anorexia’s shameful sister.

For those who don’t have the will-power to starve and restrict, and for those who cannot seem to control themselves.

Since most bulimics have a normal weight and don’t look particularly unhealthy, it’s not taken that serious, damaging or dangerous either. Especially not by the average bulimic herself.

Many people belief weight to be a good indication of the severity of one’s condition; and therefor assume that the underweight anorexic is per definition worse off than the seemingly healthy bulimic. However, reasoning this way and going by ‘what you see is what you get’ can prove to be a lethal mistake. Besides the fact that the naked eye can’t observe the inside damage of having binged, purged and starved for months or years and in that regard no estimation of severity can be made on pure perception; the present study will argue that:

…it is not so much the physical complaints as it is the emotional pain and suffering an eating disorder brings about that makes the condition so impairing.

Unfortunately, since eating disorders are generally described in objective and behavioural symptoms and assessed in terms of measurable characteristics, the subjective experience of the disorder tends to be ignored and greatly undervalued.

The thesis aims to accomplish many things, from simply educating the reader to expressing discontent with modern psychiatry. Most importantly however, it aims to do justice to what eating disorders – and mental disorders in general – really are: human conditions.

They are human expressions in response to human experiences, and when taking into account the personal context they develop and exist in, often very understandable.

It is thus reasoned that although they are signs of dis-order and dis-ease within the individual, this doesn’t mean they should be considered a disorder, or disease. Accordingly, it is stated that reducing highly personal and complex conditions to a set of standardized, objective and behavioural symptoms, is bad practice and proof of a very narrow-minded view.

– Introduction bachelor thesis

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