People from all levels of society, regardless of their demographic factors or lifestyle have personal struggles with food. Certain conditions such as eating disorders which include anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating disorder deter some from sustaining healthy weights or leading a healthy lifestyle.
While these disorders are often misconstrued as just a phase, they are accompanied by dire consequences. It is also worth noting that eating disorders are not a person’s choice of lifestyle. No individual is making a sound decision to treat their body poorly.
However, people with eating disorders have mental and physical problems – and illnesses. Therein lies the need for medical intervention or mental health assistance to help a person recover.
In this post, you will learn what eating disorders are, how they manifest, and how to overcome them.
What Is an Eating Disorder?
When we say a person has an eating disorder, they cannot maintain a healthy eating habit. The conditions vary; some people, may not eat enough. Others may overeat, and then some are too obsessed with watching their calories for weight-related issues.
A person with an eating disorder may also try to control their food, exercise too much, and develop rituals for when to eat or eat alone. Of course, there are many more ways to manifest eating disorders.
The overarching image of this condition is how people are obsessed with their weight and how they look. People with eating disorders often consider themselves unattractive, which is far from reality.
Types of Eating Disorders
a) Bulimia Nervosa
People with bulimia, like anorexic individuals, are obsessed with their weight. However, bulimia is more of a psychological and a physical disorder.
The condition is characterized by bingeing vast amounts of food in a short time than purging it as quickly as possible. The pattern eventually becomes addictive and uncontrollable.
Bulimia nervosa symptoms
- Purge food
- Use laxatives
- Often overexercise
- Restrict their calories
Bulimia has serious health consequences. Repeated bingeing and purging can cause chemical and electrolyte imbalances in the body. These may affect your heart and other body organs.
Some people suffer from both bulimia and anorexia. Chemical imbalance, in this case, can cause sudden death.
Sadly, bulimic persons may also exhibit normal behaviors, making it difficult to diagnose. However, here are some symptoms:
- Mood swings
- Exhibiting behaviors for hard dieting and an obsession with weight loss
- Food rituals, not eating in public, skipping meals
- Hoarding or stealing food
- Excessive use of laxatives
- Disappearing after eating
- Physical symptoms include:
- Unnatural bloating
- Stained or discolored teeth, swelling in the jaw
- Growth of fine hair (lanugo) all over the body
- Dizziness, fainting, & sleep disorder
- Dry and brittle nails
- Menstrual issues
- Poor immune system
Take note of these signs and if you notice them on your loved one, seek medical help.
b) Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia is characterized by extreme weight loss. People suffering from anorexia eat a lot less than they require to maintain good health.
Extreme weight loss in anorexic persons is due to severe calorie restriction. They achieve this by eating too little, moving food around on their plates instead of skipping meals, or purging after eating.
The easiest way to diagnose anorexia is by looking for the common signs of the condition instead of making assumptions based on body weight.
Anorexia nervosa symptoms
i) Behavioral symptoms:
- Being overly body-conscious and making comments about how fat, ugly, or overweight one feels
- Common complaints about abdominal discomfort, anxiety, insomnia, feeling cold, or gastric distress
- Being picky about foods, being uncomfortable eating in public, avoiding making plans with others on matters that involve food
ii) Physical symptoms:
- Failure to maintain a healthy weight
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Dry skin, brittle nails, and hair
- Lanugo growth
- Slow healing or being sick and not recovering quickly.
Bear in mind, however, that just because these symptoms are not present in someone, they do not have anorexia. Some people may hide these behaviors.
c) Binge Eating Disorder
What is a binge eating disorder?
Binge eating disorder, or BED, is a condition where one eats a lot of food in a short time. These individuals may continue eating even after they are full. People with this condition often feel embarrassed, so they avoid gatherings that involve food.
Unlike those with anorexia or bulimia, people with BED don’t purge or measure their calories. They do not exercise or use laxatives – but they might show interest in some diets.
Unfortunately, BED is also associated with being underweight, overweight, or average weight.
However, the disorder is linked to some dangerous health problems such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke, sleep apnea, mental illness, depression, anxiety, and others.
BED health effects may take longer to manifest, but here are binge eating disorder symptoms to watch out for:
i) Behavioral symptoms
- Not eating around people
- Ditching family dinners or get-togethers that involve food
- Feeling worthless and unappreciated
- Low self-esteem
- Stealing, hoarding, or eating large amounts of food
ii) Physical symptoms
- Inconsistent body weight
- Abdominal discomfort, cramping, and constipation, among others
- Difficulty concentrating
Much like the first two eating disorders, BED can lead to lifelong mental distress and poor health.
d) Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
This type of disorder is not about body image. However, people suffering from ARFID eat less than their body requires limiting normal growth. In adults, avoidant restrictive food intake reduces nutrient intake. Over time, ARFID may have severe consequences such as sudden death.
People with ARFID avoid food, and the reason they do this is that they don’t like a particular food or the experience itself is unpleasant. Others are afraid they will choke or vomit.
And when they eat, they take considerable amounts of time to clear a plate. This negatively impacts their health and how they relate with other people. Here are some symptoms of ARFID:
i) Behavioral symptoms
- Negative body image comments
- Not being spontaneous about food
- A lot of time is spent before the mirror
- Not eating with others
- Cooking for others but not eating
- Maintaining an obsessive exercise regimen, despite outside factors such as weather conditions, etc.
- Exhibiting low-self esteem
ii) Physical symptoms
- Looking too thin, malnourished, and pale
- Disturbed sleep sequences
- Having trouble regulating body temperatures
- Dry skin, brittle nails, thin or thinning hair, growth of fine hair all over the body
- Decreased appetite, gastrointestinal issues, abdominal pain
If you or your loved one experience these symptoms, you should consult a healthcare provider. Most importantly, if you encounter someone who may have ARFID, ask if they are addicted to food, and if they are reluctant, reach out to a specialist for help.
What are the causes of Eating Disorders?
Many factors cause eating disorders, and it depends mainly on the individual. Sometimes, people with eating disorders cannot fathom the specific cause of their condition, and this is where mental health treatment may be used.
But at its core, people develop eating disorders due to the constant need to control their bodies and other areas of their lives.
Other causes of eating disorders include:
- Genetics and family history – a person whose parents or siblings have experienced the condition is likely to have one – some studies show that serotonin levels in the brain may influence eating behavior, and imbalances may arise from genetic causes.
- Media and the environment – people are awash with images of how society expects them to look or behave. This influences one’s behavior forcing them to take drastic measures to chase the perfect image. According to the Dove Girls and Beauty Confidence: The Global Report, more than half the girls worldwide lack high body self-esteem. 80% avoid activities they would otherwise engage in, while 70% risk their health to stay slim or report being less assertive when they don’t look how they want to.
- Emotional health – a person with low-emotional health is likely to develop an eating disorder. Anxiety, depression fights, and physical and sexual abuse, among others, all contribute to the development of an eating disorder.
- Peer pressure – people’s opinions also influence specific behaviors, especially the youth. Peer pressure around body image is one of the most significant contributors to eating disorders.
- Life changes – lifestyle changes cause stress and anxiety, which somewhat forces people to want to look their best. Joining a new school and getting a new job may unintentionally force people to find themselves with an eating disorder.
Who is at Risk of Developing Eating Disorders?
Everyone is at risk of developing an eating disorder. But there are those whose standards in society force them to look a certain way; athletes, for instance, are expected to look a sure way to perform better. They are some of the victims of eating disorders.
People who are bullied, have type 1 diabetes, dieters, poor people, some members of the LGBTQ+ community, low-income earners, people with PTSD or trauma, and people who struggle with drug and substance addiction are more likely to develop eating disorders.
Eating Disorders Treatment?
Eating disorders require treatment, but each plan depends on the severity of the condition and the individual. Patients may or may not need hospitalization. Those who require hospitalization are individuals that require medical monitoring or those who need additional healthcare services such as tube feeds, vital signs check, and intravenous fluids.
There is no universal treatment for an eating disorder. Patients have tailored plans to ensure the best results. The treatment plans, however, may take a wide variety of forms such as:
- Cognitive behavior therapy
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- Family-based treatment
The success of any treatment plan for eating disorders is a collective effort on the part of the patient and their support network, which includes the spouse, parents, children, friends, and colleagues, among others, including the care team.
Typically, every patient is assigned a primary care provider or another specialist for an assessment. They also visit a psychiatrist, a therapist, or a psychologist. In some instances, a dietitian is involved.
The methods applied in treating eating disorders vary depending on the patient. Any life-threatening issues are addressed first before moving on to the other mild symptoms.
For instance, if a patient is not eating or is unconscious, that will be the primary concern. After that, the care team will work to alter their thinking and help them learn how to make healthy decisions. They will then work together to create a new eating routine, and the follow-up may last for years!
In other instances, the physician or psychiatrist may recommend medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, or any other remedy that reduces the severe symptoms of eating disorders. This is a measure to help the patient focus on recovery.
The effects of eating disorders can get quite severe, but the condition is entirely treatable. The best thing you can ever do is get help immediately. If you or your loved one has an eating disorder, talk to them. Have them understand the negative impact it will have on their lives and how the consequences could be long-lasting. It is also highly important to reach out to a healthcare professional or a trusted resource.
If you think you or a loved one may have an eating disorder, reach out to them, a healthcare professional, and a trusted outside resource. If you’re concerned about yourself or your loved one, the best thing you can do is immediately get help.