Eating Disorders: Everything You Ought To Know
Accepted standard ideals of beauty and weight are continuously splashed all across various forms of media. That being said, the constant need and desire to match these ideals can often turn drastic. Some may view eating disorders as phases that teenage girls go through, but they’ve actually been recognized as mental disorders by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Not only do they affect individuals physically, but also psychologically and socially.
The National Eating Disorder Association estimates that 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from eating disorders in the US alone while the worldwide number is close to 70 million. Irregular and alarming eating habits as a result of an eating disorder stem from an obsession with food as well as physical appearance.
1. Anorexia nervosa
Anorexia nervosa is considered the most well-known eating disorder. Although it’s known to commonly affect women, men can also suffer from it. People who develop anorexia view themselves as overweight, regardless of their current weight- even if they’re underweight. As a result, they obsessively monitor their weight and severely restrict themselves from eating certain foods.
Although a key symptom of anorexia nervosa is being considerably underweight, there are other signs that point to the possibility of one suffering from anorexia. Symptoms include very restrictive, almost obsessive eating patterns. Their obsessive behaviour can also translate to them continuously talking about their weight (how fat they believe they are) as well as generally lying about their eating habits.
- Health complications
Aside from drastic weight loss, anorexia comes with a whole range of other health complications. Severe menstrual changes (amenorrhea) are commonly associated with those who suffer from anorexia. The abnormal absence of a menstrual cycle cannot only impact one’s fertility rates but it can also increase the risk for miscarriages and complications during pregnancy. Other complications include fatigue, social withdrawal as a result of shame, brain fog, palpitations, anaemia, dry skin, brittle and thinning hair, brittle nails and thinning bones.
In severe cases, anorexia can be fatal. According to a review published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, the mortality rate associated with the disorder is the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Individuals who are at a heightened risk of developing anorexia include; those with a
family history of eating disorders, anyone with a history of an eating disorder, those battling with other mental illnesses such as depression and OCD(obsessive compulsive disorder) and those with substance abuse issues.
2. Bulimia Nervosa
Like anorexia, bulimia nervosa is another common eating disorder. Individuals who suffer from bulimia consume large amounts of foods – foods that they would typically avoid – in a short period of time. As the person believes that they have no control during their binge-eating episode, they continue eating until they’re painfully full. Once this has happened, in order to compensate for the calories and relieve stomach pain – the individual then attempts to purge the food. Purging can take the form of include forced vomiting, fasting, laxatives, diuretics, enemas, excessive exercise and regular periods of fasting.
Unlike anorexia, not all bulimics become underweight and rather maintain a normal weight. As a result, it’s important to look out for other symptoms. Symptoms include:
- recurrent, almost uncontrollable episodes of binge eating
- a fear of weight gain
- frequents trips to the bathroom after a meal
- a constant desire to eat in private
- teeth stains – which are physical manifestations as a result of purging.
As bulimia involves forced regurgitation, this can have a serious effect on one’s health.
- Health complications
Forced vomiting can create an imbalance of key nutrients, electrolytes and fluids and this can increase the risk for stroke, heart attacks and heart failure. Other side effects include acid reflux, sore throat, tooth decay, constipation, diarrhoea and an increased likelihood for ulcers. Risk factors associated with bulimia include; a family history of bulimia, a history of other mental illnesses such as depression and those who have a strong obsession with weight loss.
3. Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating is another common eating disorder, yet unlike the previous two, it is not characterized by episodes of purging or restrictive food intake. As they believe they have no self-control, a person will consume an unusually large amount of food in relatively short period of time. Binge-eating disorder is commonly seen as overeating (as we often do be it as a result of boredom or sadness). However, unlike instances of overeating, binge-eating episodes are more constant and are likely to have a bigger impact on one’s personal and professional life.
Symptoms associated with binge eating include the excessive and rapid consumption of foods in private, eating until uncomfortably full, feelings of a lack of control during these episodes, sham, guilt and disgust after an episode and also hoarding foods to eat at a later time.
- Health complications
As a result of their over-eating, individuals are likely to be overweight or obese or facing a heightened risk of being one of the two. Obesity comes with its own range of health issues mainly diabetes and heart disease. Other complications associated with this disorder include muscle pains, depression and digestive issues, such as constipation.
If you find yourself battling with an eating disorder, it’s important to know that you are not alone and the first step is admitting that you have a problem. Food is an aspect of our lives that helps to keep us nourished and healthy. By seeking recovery, not only will you change your relationship with food but it will help to boost your health and your self-esteem. Depending on their severity, these disorders can be treated in a number of ways but they all incorporate using psychological counselling and nutrition rehabilitation. Click here to access the abovementioned review and find out more about this serious health issue.
Want to find out more?
As society’s foremost expert on nutrition, the dietitian has an important role on the treatment team for a person suffering from an eating disorder, and more opportunities are opening up for dieticians to develop as experts in this role. Click here to find out more.