As delightful as the word eating sounds, it can pose a major threat to our health and affect our everyday human function.
The big question is, when does eating become a threat to one’s physical and mental health?
When the healthy relationship between eating, food, exercise and body image has been severed, it becomes a disorder.
Now, what are eating disorders?
Eating disorders are serious abnormal conditions that involve persistent eating habits that have a negative impact on your health, your emotions and your ability to perform in crucial areas of life. They might start with an obsession with food, body weight, or body shape.
In severe cases, eating disorders can lead to dire health consequences and may even result in death if not properly handled. According to research, following opioid overdose, eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses.
What are the signs of an eating disorder?
Mental and behavioral signs may include:
- Drastic weight loss
- Unnecessary concerns about eating in public
- Excessive preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams, or dieting
- Excuses to avoid mealtime
- Unexplainable fear of weight gain or being “fat”
- Severely reducing and restricting certain food and the amount at which they are consumed
- Denying feeling hungry
- Habits of binge eating and purging
- Exercising excessively
- Preparing meals for others without eating
Physical signs of eating disorder may include:
- Stomach cramps and other gastrointestinal symptoms
- Concentration difficulties
- Dizziness and fainting
- Sleep irregularities
- Menstrual irregularities
- Dry skin and dry, thin nails
- Hair thinning
- Weakness of the muscles
- Poor wound healing and immune system function
What causes eating disorders?
A variety of factors may contribute to eating disorders and they include the following:
- Genetics: Individuals from a family where either the sibling or parent has an eating disorder is at higher risk of developing one.
- Personality traits: Personality traits such as neuroticism, perfectionism, and impulsivity often increase the risk of developing an eating disorder.
- Some other causation factors include, perceived pressures to be thin, cultural preferences for thinness, and exposure to media promoting these ideals.
Types of eating disorders
Anorexia nervosa appears to be the most common eating disorder. It typically develops during adolescence or young adulthood and affects more women than men. Individuals with anorexia generally see themselves as overweight, even if they’re badly underweight.
They are constantly concerned about their weight and will always watch their weight. They avoid eating certain types of foods and severely restrict their calorie intake. This eating disorder is peculiar to individuals with obsessive-compulsive symptoms.
Over time, individuals living with Anorexia may experience thinning of their bones, infertility, and brittle hair and nails.
Complications include heart, brain, or multi-organ failure and death. However, it’s key to note that weight should not be the major focus when diagnosing anyone with anorexia.
This is another major disorder that shares a similarity with Anorexia. It develops usually during adolescence and early adulthood and is very common among women,
Individuals with bulimia often eat unusually large amounts of food in a specific period of time until the person becomes painfully full.
During a binge, the person usually feels that they cannot stop eating or control how much they are eating after which they attempt to purge just to compensate for the calories consumed and to relieve gut discomfort.
Binge eating disorder
Binge eating disorder is the most predominant form of eating disorder and causes the most common chronic illnesses among adolescents and can develop later than adolescence and early adulthood.
Individuals with this disorder have symptoms similar to those of bulimia or the binge eating subtype of anorexia. Unlike bulimia, people with binge eating disorder do not restrict calories or use purging behaviors, such as vomiting or excessive exercise to compensate for their binges.
Pica involves eating substances that are not considered food and they do not nourish the body in any way.
These non-food items may include, ice, dirt, soil, chalk, soap, paper, hair, cloth, wool, pebbles, laundry detergent, or cornstarch.
Pica is mostly seen in individuals with conditions that affect daily functioning, including intellectual disabilities and developmental conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, and mental health conditions such as schizophrenia.
Individuals with pica are at risk of gut injuries, poisoning, nutritional deficiencies and infections.
However, it is noteworthy that for a condition to be regarded as pica, the eating of non-food substances must not be a typical part of someone’s culture or religion or a socially accepted practice among the person’s peers.
Rumination disorder is a newly recognized eating disorder in which an individual regurgitates food substances that had been masticated and swallowed previously and re-chews it, and then either re-swallows it or spits it out. This typically takes place 30 minutes after eating.
This disorder can develop during infancy between 3 and 12 months old, childhood, or adulthood and then disappears on its own sometimes.
If unresolved, rumination disorder can lead to weight loss and severe malnutrition that can be fatal.
Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder
Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is a new name for an old disorder called, feeding disorder of infancy and early childhood.
Individuals with this disorder may experience disturbed eating due to either a lack of interest in eating or a distaste for certain smells, tastes, colors, textures, or temperatures.
Moreover, it does not include the avoidance of foods due to religious inclinations.
Eating disorder treatment plans are peculiar to each person and may consist of a combination of multiple therapies.
It’s vital to seek treatment early for eating disorders, as the risk of medical complications and suicide is high.
Treatment options for eating disorders include:
- Individual, group, or family psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be recommended to help reduce or eliminate disordered behavior such as binge eating, purging, and restricting.
- Medications. Medications may be prescribed by a doctor such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers to either cure the eating disorder or other possible conditions that may have occurred as a result of the eating disorders.
- Nutritional counseling. This involves working with a nutritionist to learn proper eating habits and nutrition and possible weight restoration and management.
These treatment plans can be combined in order to improve treatment outcomes.
If you find yourself around someone or people with an eating disorder, you can support them by simply listening to them, include them in activities, check-in and invite them to events to help them feel valued and less alone. This will help build their self-esteem and also give them all the courage they need to overcome the disorder.