There was a recent article released by Western University that claims that anorexia nervosa, or eating disorders in general, should be called a 'passion'. According to the authors, a passion is something that one finds enjoyable, but can be destructive in excess. (See
http://www.exchangemagazine.com/morningpost/2014/week33/Thursday/14082209.htm for details).
Now, allow me to tell you what I think about this 'discovery'. EDs are mental illnesses. Some people think of ED as an addiction in that it becomes obsessive and difficult to stop or control. This I understand. My issue with defining ED as a passion is that a passion denotes something positive, something we love and strive to always follow. Now, EDs do become obsessive, and patients always strive to focus all energies and thoughts on the disorder. However, EDs are in no way, shape, or form enjoyable. ED is not something the patient loves. It is not fun, exciting, or life-enhancing. Calling ED a passion makes it seem that the patient enjoys the ED. But this isn't the case at all.
EDs are destructive. They are the number one killers among all psychiatric illnesses. They can cause severe organ damage, emotional pain, and other complications. Patients never choose to have eating disorders. But we can choose our passions. For example, I may find that I enjoy writing and am good at it. I make this my passion by constantly writing, looking for ways to improve my writing skills, etc. But no one ever chooses to have ED because it is fun or because they are 'good at restricting and losing weight'. There is a big difference between the two situations.
I also don't particularly like how the authors state that labelling ED as a passion will change the way we treat these serious illnesses. The authors say that thinking of EDs as a passion means that we see that patients can make decisions about the passion - the ED. But is this true? Not really. In most cases, the ED, as a mental illness, takes over the patient. The individual with ED is not able to make decisions on when to restrict food intake because it is not them in control, but the ED. The person with ED doesn't make a decision to binge, purge, or restrict. It is the ED. Likewise, the patient with ED cannot always make the decision to start eating and to recover. This takes time, and in many cases, treatment must start even when the patient doesn't fully accept or appreciate it. But if we called ED a passion, we would be saying that the person can make decisions on when to engage in the ED, when to stop, etc. And we know that this isn't true at all. We have seen time and time again that brain changes, along with hormonal and chemical influences, change the way a patient with ED thinks, acts, eats, etc. So really, the patient is under the control of the illness. It isn't a passion. It is an illness.
Why do we have to come up with different words to describe what an eating disorder is? Why cant society just accept that ED is a serious and deadly mental illness? Why do we need to bring in incorrect terminology and false ideas around this issue? It is enough to say that EDs are mental illnesses - and life-threatening disorders. This alone should be enough to make us understand that treatment, identification, and prevention need to start as soon as possible. Would you tell someone who smokes or drinks alcohol obsessively that they have a passion for smoking? No. Would you tell someone who has depression that they have a passion for feeling sad? No. So why is it alright to label ED as a passion? It isn't.
Perhaps instead of wasting research dollars, time, and effort on
finding new ways to label EDs, we should instead focus on why they occur, how we can prevent them, and the best ways to treat them. We should focus on how to support patients and their loved ones. That kind of research and initiative is worthwhile. That's what will make a difference to the thousands of people living and battling eating disorders daily. Prevention, identification, and treatment. Not labelling. We all need to work together to make these changes - every little thing you say or do can make a big difference. Remember this quote on the image to the right - be kind. You never know what each person you meet is dealing with. Don't judge, don't blame, and don't stereotype.