When I was about 10 years old, two years after I stopped eating, my pediatrician was worried that I had anorexia. I was forced to talk on the phone with a helpline. They asked me various questions, like “Why don’t you want to eat?” And “Do you like the way your body looks?” I was actually pretty confused because I knew what they were implying. And I, of course, did not have an eating disorder!
Except for I did. And I do.
This may sound stupid, but I realized that I do in fact have an eating disorder just a few months ago. I was in denial for so long because I thought there were only two eating disorders: anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
But when you type into Google “What is an eating disorder?” This is what shows up:
“Any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits (such as anorexia nervosa).”
I definitely fall into the category of someone with “abnormal or disturbed eating habits.” But my eating disorder had and has nothing to do with body image. As I got older, I actually disliked how thin I was and often wore baggy clothes to cover it up. Because body image related eating disorders are so frequently talked about (which is good!) I had no idea that an eating disorder could be related to anything else.
And this was bad. Because no one spoke about any other eating disorders, I thought I was totally fine. I would even read about the long-time side effects of anorexia and think to myself, “Wow, good thing I’m not anorexic!” Yeah. I know right. The damage I was doing to my body was exactly the same, and I now have to suffer from many of the long-time side effects I somehow thought I was immune from.
Finding statistics and even basic information about emetophobia is surprisingly difficult. There isn’t a lot of information out there, unless you count Buzzfeed articles or random health blogs (which I don’t). There is not even a name for my emetophobia-related eating disorder. It’s hard to get help for a disorder without a name. It needs a name! (Plus, it’s important to distinguish between emetophobia and the emtophobia-related eating disorder. I want to clarify that you can have emetophobia without the eating issues.)
My computer doesn’t recognize the word (whenever I blog about emetophobia, the little red squiggly line appears and I have to try my best to ignore it). But if I type in “agoraphobia” or “arachnophobia” or “claustrophobia” there are no issues there.
It’s so strange how difficult it is to find reliable sources on the topic, considering it is supposedly one of the most common phobias. Maybe this is because it is also an embarrassing phobia. It took me years to feel comfortable talking about it openly. Whatever the reason, it is my goal to bring more awareness to it.
Since publishing my book, multiple people have come up to me and told me that they suffer from emetophobia. Some much more mild than me, but some who suffer or suffered to a similar degree. I went all of my childhood thinking I was the only one in the entire world who felt this way. I thought I was crazy, I thought no one would ever understand me, and I was in denial about how serious this phobia and eating disorder is.
If you go to almost any website that defines the health effects of eating disorders, they are almost ALWAYS categorized into three groups: anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating (see an example here). It’s easy to see why I thought for so long that I did not have an eating disorder. Where do I fit in? Though my eating (or lack of eating) behaviour was almost identical to anorexia, I was not diagnosed with anorexia nervosa because I did not have the psychological component of it (fear of weight gain) – and therefore it was hard for me to understand that I was at the same risk, especially when I was a kid.
So, in case you can’t find this information anywhere else…
Health Consequences of Emetophobia-Related Eating Disorder
- “Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which mean that the heart muscle is changing. The risk for heart failure rises as the heart rate and blood pressure levels sink lower and lower.
- Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones.
- Muscle loss and weakness.
- Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.
- Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness.
- Dry hair and skin; hair loss is common.
- Growth of a downy layer of hair called lanugo all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm.”
Source (Health Consequences of Anorexia Nervosa): www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
Because I can’t find any reliable statistics, I have no idea how many others suffer from this eating disorder. But I do know that I am not the only one. I hope that years from now, when someone tries to Google their emetophobia-related eating disorder, that it appears on websites like nationaleatingdisorders.org, and that it doesn’t take them a literal decade to start getting help.