A weight-focused culture

CM Life Photo Illustration (Ella Miller | CM Life)

Each year there are 10,200 deaths as a result of an eating disorder that’s one death every 52 minutes, according to National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). 

Lisa Carpenter, one of the counselors at Center for Hope Counseling in Mount Pleasant, works with patients that have been diagnosed with an eating disorder. 

Eating disorders are not something that you get at a certain age. They can develop in anyone of any age. But the reason why they may develop in some people is depends on experiences she said.

“However, most of my clients will trace their disorders back to elementary school,” Carpenter said. “They went through trauma that they got the body image and food insecurity. But there’s also people that are middle aged that just pop up as well.”

Samantha Hahn is an assistant professor and population health researcher at the College of Medicine at Central Michigan University. Her research aims to spread awareness for people who have gone undiagnosed throughout their lives or a certain amount of time.

“We live in a culture that is really focused on weight and values thinness and leanness and muscularity,” Hanh said. “And that pops up in so many different ways that can be diet, talk, family pressure, from your physician, social media and/or television.”

Eating disorders have a lot of impacts on mental illness, such as increased likelihood of depression or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), Carpenter said.

Along with eating disorders being intertwined with each other, food insecurity has a big play in both of these things, Hahn said.

Food insecurity can form due to many reasons, and sometimes subconsciously. It can affect mental health as well. If you aren’t in a space where you can get the proper nutrients, that obsession can start and there are mental and physical restrictions that start to develop, she said.

“It’s essentially the inability to access enough food that is desirable, affordable, meets your needs and also your desires,” Hahn said.

In a survey, Hahn found that eating disorders affect people of all body shapes, genders and sexual orientation, races, religions and ethnicities. 

“People who have an eating disorder don’t want to let other people know they are struggling,” Hahn said. “The best thing that you can do for someone is ask them if they’re okay. People may be at various stages of being ready or able to accept help.”

Eating disorders stem from other mental illnesses and can improve or get worse, based on how the person’s other mental illnesses track. OCD, anxiety and depression are all examples of mental illnesses that can lead to eating disorders, both Carpenter and Hahn said.

“There’s also a strong link between eating disorders and substance use, suicide and self-harm,” Hahn said. “An eating disorder is really complex and depends on the disorder, and there is a likely bidirectional relationship — meaning they both contribute to each other — and is also very dependent upon the person.” 

Eating disorders can be emotionally and physically damaging to a person when they aren’t being treated or when they don’t acknowledge they have an eating disorder, Hahn said. 

“It’s about trauma, emotional disregulation,” Carpenter said. “It’s about fear, it’s about not having control.

“When someone doesn’t get proper nutrition, there’s a gut-brain connection and it affects thinking, ability to concentrate, work and interacting with people. (A starving brain) can affect brain chemistry and how people talk to others.”

If you or someone you know experiencing eating disorders, seek professional help at:

CMU Counseling Center: 989-774-338;

National Eating Disorder Association: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org;

Crisis hotline 988.

For more information, contact Carpenter at 989-954-4673 or centerofhope2016@gmail.com.