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The secret reality of eating disorders

Léa Pelard reports on the terrible reality of eating disorders and their consequences on people who suffer from them.

Our society doesn’t really talk about it. Doctors don’t always recognise the symptoms. But many experience it. I know I do. It’s hard to understand how people who have an eating disorder feel if you haven’t gone through it yourself. You can try to imagine yes, but you won’t get any closer to what the reality is. The food that you turn to for comfort and pleasure might indeed be someone’s worst enemy.

Even though eating disorders remain a taboo subject, it is important to attempt to demystify and decode it.

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The Print Ad titled “MOUTH” was done by Publicis Espana advertising agency for Campaign Against Anorexia in Spain. 

The National Institute of Mental Health defines eating disorders as “serious medical illnesses marked by severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors“. They can become life-threatening in some cases if not recognised and treated appropriately.

The term eating disorder applies to a wide range of eating troubles. Thus, there are three main categories; anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Have you ever heard of the three terms? You probably vaguely know what it refers to, but do you really understand them?

People who suffer from anorexia severely restrict food, eat very small quantities or totally avoid eating. But anorexia isn’t only about food. It characterises people experiencing an intense fear of gaining weight. It is a true psychological problem According to the National Institute of Mental Heal “anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder“.

People with bulimia have recurrent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over these episodes. They try to compensate for their overeating by fasting, forced vomiting, undertaking excessive exercise, or by combining those behaviors. Unlike those with anorexia, people with bulimia can oftentimes maintain an average body weight or be overweight.

People with binge-eating disorder lose control over what they eat. Unlike bulimia, periods of binge-eating are not followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting which leads to becoming overweight or obese.


Low self esteem is central to the development of an eating disorder and can lead to negative perception of someone’s body image. Imagine if you were the girl in the video, seeing yourself with a distorted body image? Maybe it is difficult for you to understand how some people can see themselves that much differently to how they really are. It unfortunately is a sad and extremely difficult reality that many of us experience.  

The Department of Health and Children estimates that more than 200,000 Irish people may be affected by eating disorders. 400 new related cases emerge every year, and lead to 80 deaths every year.

Finding exact statistics isn’t possible due to the nature of eating disorders. How could we know exactly how many people suffer from eating troubles? How could we count them? When people ask for help, it can be measured, but what if they don’t? Some may not even know that they have an eating disorder and don’t realise how serious the problem is.

Many people tend to think that eating disorders are a teenage issue, which is totally false. These disorders can affect people from any age and impact a person’s mental and physical health. The average age, 15 to 24 years old, is young but it doesn’t mean than older people aren’t impacted.

It is important to remember that eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice.

“Nobody chooses to have an eating disorder”

No one would ever want to be trapped in that endless spiral. It is a daily struggle that could be compared to an addiction. You feel that you need to keep doing what you are doing to feel better and more secure. An eating disorder isn’t a phase, it is something that a person will try to grow out of.

The media are frequently blamed for contributing to negative body image and impacting people’s self esteem and own body image. It is true that for years now, our society has become obsessed with appearances, defining some body shapes as preferable and others as undesirable. In that context, the media can be a contributing factor to people’s problematic correlation of food and body — playing an important role in the development of eating disorders.

However, the media don’t create eating disorders. People who lower their self esteem because of the body image promoted within medias already have a disorder. “This is why it is so important that the media take responsibility for what they report and recognize the potential impact of messages that have the capacity to undermine healthy self-image and self-esteem which are the cornerstones of mental well-being“, says Bodywhys, the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland.

Recently, social media showed that it could have positive impacts on people suffering from eating disorders. Girls suffering from anorexia in particular share their daily struggle on Instagram, using the platform as a diary for recovery. They share their thoughts, their meals, their problem. All the while being encouraged by a worldwide community trying to help each other conquer their inner maladies. 

Bethany, alias @vegbethany use Instagram as a recovery path

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