Eating disorders are serious, biologically influenced medical illnesses characterised by significant disruptions in one’s eating behaviours. Although many people are concerned about their health, weight, or appearance on a regular basis, some people become fixated or obsessed with weight loss, body weight or shape, and food control. These could be symptoms of an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are not something that can be avoided. These disorders can have an impact on both physical and mental health. They can be life-threatening in some cases. However, with treatment, people can recover completely from eating disorders.
Who is in danger?
People of all ages, racial/ethnic backgrounds, body weights, and genders can suffer from eating disorders. Although eating disorders are most common in adolescence or early adulthood, they can develop in childhood or later in life (40 years and older). People suffering from eating disorders may appear healthy but are in fact very sick.
Although the exact cause of eating disorders is unknown, research suggests that a combination of genetic, biological, behavioural, psychological, and social factors can increase a person’s risk.
High perfectionism, impulsivity, harm avoidance, reward dependence, sensation seeking, neuroticism, and obsessive-compulsiveness are common personality traits associated with eating disorders (ED), as are low self-directedness, assertiveness, and cooperativeness.
Stressful events in life can cause disordered eating as a coping mechanism. People who have experienced a job loss, the death of a loved one, financial difficulties, relationship problems, or other stressors may turn to food for comfort. Alternatively, they could devise a strict diet.
Certain factors may raise one’s chances of developing an eating disorder:
- A family tree. People who have parents or siblings who have had eating disorders are much more likely to develop an eating disorder.
- Other mental health problems.
- Dieting and fasting.
Eating disorders are classified into several categories.
Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder are examples of common eating disorders. Each of these disorders is characterised by distinct but sometimes overlapping symptoms. People who exhibit any of these symptoms may have an eating disorder and should be evaluated by a medical professional.
Anorexia is a serious mental health condition as well as an eating disorder. Anorexics try to maintain their weight as low as possible by not eating enough food or exercising excessively, or both. They may become very ill as a result of this because they begin to starve. They may also weigh themselves several times. Even if they are dangerously underweight, they may perceive themselves to be overweight.
Anorexia nervosa is classified into two subtypes: restrictive and binge-purge.
Restrictive: People with anorexia nervosa’s restrictive subtype severely limit the amount and type of food they consume.
Binge-Purge: People with anorexia nervosa’s binge-purge subtype also severely restrict the amount and type of food they consume. Furthermore, they may have binge-eating and purging episodes, in which they eat a large amount of food in a short period of time followed by vomiting or using laxatives or diuretics to get rid of what they ate.
Anorexia nervosa symptoms include:
- Extreme calorie restriction and/or intense and excessive exercise.
- Extreme slenderness (emaciation).
- An obsession with thinness and an unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight.
- Intense fear of gaining weight.
- Body or self-image distortion caused by perceptions of body weight and shape.
- Denial of the gravity of underweight.
Anorexia nervosa can have a number of serious health consequences over time:
- The bones are thinning (osteopenia or osteoporosis).
- Anemia is mild.
- Muscle atrophy and weakness.
- Hair thinning or hair loss.
- Skin that is dry and yellowish.
- Fine hair growth all over the body (lanugo).
- Constipation is severe.
- Blood pressure is low.
- Breathing and pulse rate have slowed.
- Damage to the heart’s structure and function.
- Internal body temperature drops, causing a person to feel cold all of the time.
- Lethargy, sluggishness, or persistent tiredness.
- Damage to the brain.
- Failure of multiple organs.
Anorexia nervosa is potentially fatal. When compared to other mental disorders, it has an extremely high death (mortality) rate. Anorexics are at risk of dying from medical complications related to starvation. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in anorexia nervosa patients.
Bulimia nervosa is a disorder in which people have recurring episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling out of control of their eating. This binge eating is followed by compensatory behaviours such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviours. People with bulimia nervosa, unlike those with anorexia nervosa, can be normal or overweight.
Symptoms of bulimia nervosa include:
- Chronically inflamed and painful throat.
- Salivary glands in the neck and jaw are swollen.
- Worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth as a result of vomiting-induced stomach acid exposure.
- Other gastrointestinal issues, such as acid reflux.
- Laxative abuse causes intestinal distress and irritation.
- Purging causes severe dehydration.
- Electrolyte imbalance (too little or too much sodium, calcium, potassium, and other minerals) can result in stroke or heart attack.
Binge eating syndrome.
Binge-eating disorder is a condition in which people lose control of their eating and experience recurring episodes of eating abnormally large amounts of food. In contrast to bulimia nervosa, binge eating is not followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting. As a result, people suffering from binge eating disorder are frequently overweight or obese.
Binge eating syndrome:
- Eating unusually large amounts of food in a short period of time, such as two hours.
- During binge episodes, eating quickly.
- Eating even when not hungry or full.
- Eating until you’re stuffed.
- To avoid embarrassment, eat alone or in private.
- Eating causes, you to feel distressed, ashamed, or guilty.
- Dieting frequently, possibly without weight loss.
Disorder of avoidant restrictive food intake.
ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder), formerly known as selective eating disorder, is a condition in which people restrict the amount or type of food they eat. People with ARFID, unlike those with anorexia nervosa, do not have a distorted body image or an extreme fear of gaining weight. ARFID is most common in middle childhood and typically manifests itself earlier than other eating disorders. Many children go through picky eating phases, but a child with ARFID does not consume enough calories to properly grow and develop, and an adult with ARFID does not consume enough calories to maintain basic body function.
ARFID symptoms include:
- Restriction of the types or amount of food consumed.
- a lack of appetite or food interest.
- Significant weight loss.
- No other known cause of upset stomach, abdominal pain, or other gastrointestinal issues.
- A limited selection of preferred foods that becomes even more limited (“picky eating” that worsens over time).
Dysmorphia of the Muscles.
Muscle dysmorphia, unlike most eating disorders, affects more men than women. A disruptive obsession with musculature and physique characterises the disorder. The individual will become obsessed with achieving the ‘ideal’ form of musculature.
Eating disorders are treatable.
Eating disorders can be successfully treated. Early detection and treatment are critical for complete recovery. Suicide and medical complications are more likely in people with eating disorders.
A person’s family can play an important role in their treatment. Family members can encourage someone who is struggling with eating or body image issues to seek help. They can also offer support during treatment and be an invaluable ally to both the individual and the health care provider. According to research, involving the family in eating disorder treatment can improve treatment outcomes, particularly for adolescents.
Eating disorder treatment plans:
- Restoring proper nutrition.
- Getting back to a healthy weight.
- Excessive exercise should be avoided.
- Stopping binge-eating and binge-purge behaviours.
Psychotherapy: A mental health professional can advise you on the most appropriate psychotherapy for your situation. Cognitive behavioural therapy helps many people with eating disorders (CBT). This type of therapy assists you in understanding and changing distorted thought patterns that drive your behaviours and emotions.
The Maudsley approach: This type of family therapy assists parents of anorexic teenagers. Parents actively guide their children’s eating habits as they develop healthier habits.
Medications: Some people with eating disorders also have anxiety or depression. These conditions can be improved by taking antidepressants or other medications. As a result, your perceptions of yourself and food improve.
Nutritional counselling: A registered dietitian with eating disorder training can assist in improving eating habits and developing nutritious meal plans. This expert can also provide advice on grocery shopping, meal planning, and preparation.
The best treatment approach is frequently a collaboration of all of these professionals to achieve a comprehensive treatment that addresses the physical, mental, and behavioural aspects.
If eating disorders run in your family, being aware of the warning signs is a good place to start in order to catch the problem early. Prompt treatment can help to break unhealthy eating habits before they become more difficult to break. You can also reduce your chances of developing an eating disorder by seeking treatment for issues such as depression, anxiety, and OCD.
Eat healthily and avoid referring to food as “good or bad” to set a good example for your family. Do not diet, discuss dieting, or make disparaging remarks about your body.
A word about health:
Eating disorders are a serious issue that can have a negative impact on both your mental and physical health. Don’t be embarrassed to seek help if you believe you have an eating disorder. Every day, millions of people struggle with an eating disorder. You can get better with proper medical care and mental health counselling. Years of living with an untreated eating disorder can harm your physical health and even lead to death. Talking to your healthcare provider is the first step toward protecting your health.