Surviving an Eating Disorder Where Food is Scarce

Woman struggling with clean eating

A common misconception about an eating disorder and surviving an eating disorder is that it is about food. Certainly, one’s ED experience will affect their relationship with food, but it is rarely the food itself that is the issue. EDs often exist due to a combination of biological, psychological, and sociological factors.

While it is assumed that these factors, and therefore EDs, are only experienced by those in Western society, studies have found that EDs do occur in non-Western countries, including those countries experiencing food shortages or famine [1]. How one experiences, survives, and overcomes an ED in these countries can be very different from those in the Western world.

Surviving an Eating Disorder in Regions Experiencing a Food Shortage

Experiencing an ED in a country where food is scarce can cause emotional turmoil for some. While others around you may desperately need food, you may have a different relationship with it, and that is okay!

I’ll say it again – eating disorders are not about food! They are often a manifestation of bigger, more deep-seated problems one is experiencing. Our relationship with food just becomes a way to cope with this emotional distress, whether this be eating more sweets on a bad day or the more serious and troublesome behaviors of restriction, bingeing, or purging.

It is important to know that, no matter what your relationship to food is and how it relates to the food and people around you, your experience and your struggles are valid.

You may be criticized or misunderstood by those who believe your ED is only about food. They may consider you ungrateful or selfish for refusing to eat or purging.

They simply don’t understand.

Do not allow your feelings of guilt, self-loathing, and negative self-image to worsen because others cannot understand your struggle. Allowing their assumptions and judgments to take up space in your mind creates further threat to your well-being and recovery.

Reaching Out to the International ED Community

If you are feeling alone in your ED experience, it can be helpful to reach out to the international ED community for reminders that you are not the only one with these struggles. It would be ideal to find people in your country that understand your experience.

However, they are not always easy to find. You can reach out to the international ED community through the internet to find people, near and far, who understand what you are going through and can provide support and assistance.

In addition to finding the support of those in the global ED community, find ways to cope with your struggles and overcome your disorder on your cultural terms. What works for someone in the Western world may not work for you, as your cultural experiences are different.

Woman picking fruit and Surviving an Eating DisorderHow does your culture deal with mental health issues? If professional mental health assistance isn’t available in your country or area, what other options are there to cope?

Some cultures do not refer to any emotional discord as “mental health,” yet, they have long-standing cultural traditions that assist in this area. Your culture may emphasize seeking spiritual guidance, using herbal remedies, or meditating.

These same practices are recommended as positive coping mechanisms for surviving an eating disorder in Western cultures but may simply go by a different name.

Seek out positive coping mechanisms that work for you and are available in your country. They may not be the same methods or resources those in other countries use, but there is always support somewhere.

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


[1]:  Makino, M., Koji, T., Dennerstein., L. (2004). Prevalence of eating disorders: a comparison of western and non-western countries. Medscape General Medicine, 6 (3): 49.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on August 23, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 23, 2017.
Published on