According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, millions of people suffer from eating disorders (EDs). In a country like the United States, for instance, at least 9% of people will experience an ED during their lifetime.
ED-related illnesses have a high morbidity rate, and according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, around 10,200 people die each year because of complications related to them.
Treating these disorders is complex, but it’s very much possible, and there is a reason for hope. Early detection of an ED is crucial to overcoming the condition. But before we delve further into that, let’s understand what this term actually means.
What Is Disordered Eating?
An eating disorder is a medical condition in which a person has unhealthy eating habits or patterns that can dramatically affect their mental and physical health. Aside from having an impact on their behavior and mood, it also can also affect their personal and professional life and quality of life in general.
People suffering from these conditions tend to focus on their body weight/shape, leading to unhealthy eating patterns and behaviors. In some cases, EDs can severely impact physical health, as the body’s ability to absorb nutrients is diminished due to limited food intake. This can give rise to other health issues like digestive disorders and heart problems.
The Different Types of EDs
Symptoms and treatments vary based on the type of ED a person has. Among these are anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, pica, rumination, and avoidant/restrictive intake disorder.
Anorexia is an ED in which a person is obsessed with weight loss and having what they perceive as a perfect body. People with this condition often have abnormally low body weight, and the idea of gaining weight disturbs them constantly.
They attach their self-worth to their body weight, so no matter how much their weight drops, they are never really satisfied and are always fearful of gaining weight. An anorexic person will often use unhealthy and extreme measures like laxatives, diuretics, enemas, and diet pills to maintain a particular body size. Sometimes the condition even becomes life-threatening.
Bulimia nervosa, commonly known as bulimia, is a serious illness that can also be life-threatening. It involves instances of bingeing and purging that indicate a lack of control over eating.
This disorder is a constant struggle of binging on large amounts of food and then trying to rid oneself of it through purging, which is typically a response related to guilt or shame. As the person feels guilty about consuming a large quantity of food, they try to offset that by using unhealthy measures such as forced vomiting, excessively vigorous exercise, and laxatives.
People with this condition often criticize themselves for their body weight and mostly self-perceived flaws.
Binge eating is a disorder that involves instances of consuming large quantities of food and is characterized by a feeling of loss of control. Typical behaviors associated with this illness include eating large amounts of food to the point of discomfort and feeling shame or embarrassment at how much one is eating.
The shame/guilt can cause them to hide their bingeing from family members and friends. This disorder can occur in people with normal body weight and people who are overweight or obese.
Pica is an ED that involves eating substances that aren’t food, have no nutritional value, and can even be harmful or dangerous to ingest.
People with this condition have a compulsion to eat items such as paper, hair, string, chalk, talcum powder, gum, dried paint, metal, pebbles, ash, and charcoal — among others. Ingesting these substances can lead to serious health consequences, such as lead poisoning.
The diagnosis of pica is based on the patient’s clinical history and can include tests for anemia and nutritional deficiencies. Treatment will often involve behavioral interventions and tests for the side effects of ingesting any toxic substances.
Rumination is a condition in which the person with the ailment regurgitates undigested food and re-chews, re-swallows, or spits it out. This can be done either intentionally or unintentionally and repeatedly after every meal.
Symptoms of rumination can include weight loss, bad breath, and tooth decay. The treatment of rumination usually involves behavioral therapy, which often includes learning new breathing techniques.
Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (or ARFID) involves eating only very limited amounts or types of foods. Unlike some of the other disorders we’ve covered, people with this condition are not concerned about their body image, shape, or size.
Because of their limited diets, people with ARFID do not get enough calories or nutrients, which can lead to stunted growth and low weight in children. In adults, it can cause abnormally dangerous weight loss, which affects healthy bodily functions.
There is no specific cause for ARFID. However, some experts believe that it is caused by extreme sensitivity to taste or texture. Also, having a previous unpleasant experience of choking and vomiting with certain foods can cause fear or anxiety around foods.
International Yoga Day is just around the corner, and it has everyone excited! The theme for this year is "Yoga for Humanity." This year's edition focuses on COVID-19 and how yoga has helped people both physically and mentally throughout the pandemic. This year's...
What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
Though signs and symptoms of EDs vary based on the type of illness, there are few things you can look out for:
- Fluctuations in body weight: This is often the chief warning sign of an eating disorder. A person at less than 85% of their ideal body weight who has other related symptoms may be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, for example, but being underweight or overweight isn’t definitive criteria for having an ED. Even a person with a healthy body weight can have an ED.
- Unusual eating patterns: A person with an ED may display certain abnormal eating patterns, such as:
- Refraining from eating with family or friends
- Developing a sudden dislike for foods they used to enjoy
- Constantly counting calories
- Consuming an excessive amount of fluids to suppress hunger
- Binge eating
- Vomiting immediately after meals
- Chewing food excessively and for long durations
- Hiding or disposing of food secretly
- Compulsive focus on nutritional content: It’s good to be conscious of the nutritional value of the foods we eat, but it shouldn’t be taken to the point of an obsession. People with certain EDs may obsess over calories, fat content, or extreme dieting.
- Fixation on body image: A person who spends significant amounts of time looking in the mirror trying to find flaws in their body and making negative comments about themselves may be suffering from an ED. They may also be consumed with comparing themselves to celebrities with supposedly perfect bodies. Wearing baggy clothes to hide one’s actual weight can also be a sign of certain EDs.
- Unusual changes in exercise habits: Another potential warning sign of some of these conditions is displaying obsessive tendencies related to exercise, such as suddenly spending hours and hours on a regimen and getting upset if it’s disrupted; they may also think obsessively about the number of calories burnt.
- Use of medications for weight loss: People with some of these ailments may resort to unhealthy measures for weight loss, such as using diuretics, laxatives, and/or diet pills.
How to Manage an Eating Disorder
Treating these conditions is a complicated process that starts with identifying the issue. This means accepting that you have a problem and working towards addressing the unhealthy patterns, mindsets, and behaviors.
Here’re a few ways in which you can start your road to recovery:
- Nutrition counseling: People with these conditions need to be aware of healthy changes they can make to their eating patterns or habits. A certified nutritionist can help address these issues and even come up with meal plans.
- Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy is a method many pursue to treat these disorders. A common approach is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which can aid in making healthy changes to thinking and behavior.
- Family therapy: Family therapy can be extremely beneficial for families with teens who have any type of disordered eating. This gets parents involved in helping and supporting their teens as they try to recover.
- Medications: There isn’t any one medication that will help treat all these disorders, but anti-depressants are often used to treat anxiety and depression symptoms that can come with these conditions.
Seek Eating Disorder Therapy From a Trusted Provider With DocVita
If you are struggling with your relationship with food and with your body, reach out to a trusted therapist for help. DocVita has various specialists from different fields who can help you address your issues and see meaningful recovery. Just click through to DocVita’s therapist page to book your session.