Feeding and eating disorders are persistent disturbances of eating or eating-related behavior that significantly impair physical health. These are unhealthy attitudes to food, which can take over your life and make you ill. Eating disorders mainly center around body image disturbances. Which means, eating too much, or too little, or becoming obsessed with weight and body shape. Common types of eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, and restrictive/avoidant food intake disorder. Eating disorders are known to have caused 10,200 deaths per year.
As with the nature of this disorder, complications can lead to many physical symptoms however vary in nature depending on the type of eating disorder. Some associated symptoms are weight loss/gain, fatigue, weakness, sensitivity to cold, diarrhea, cardiac arrest, osteoporosis, hair loss, reduced libido, growth failure, and much more.
Research trends have pointed out a general increase in the prevalence of eating disorders worldwide. There are many common misconceptions when it comes to eating disorders. However, Eating disorders can affect anyone, from all shapes and sizes. They exist within all body shapes, as such this means even athletes can have an eating disorder.
Here are some statistics on the prevalence of eating disorders
Eating disorders affect 9% of the global population
Less than 6% of people with an eating disorder are actually underweight - Which means that a vast majority of people that have an eating disorder are either within a normal weight limit or overweight
26% of people with eating disorders attempt suicide
People with this disorder avoid food, and severely restrict their diet. They may see themselves as overweight even when they are dangerously thin. This is one of the more serious mental health disorders as it carries the highest rates of death. While this disorder can affect both males and females, it is much more prevalent in females. Symptoms of anorexia include, Low body mass index (BMI), avoiding eating or restricting certain kinds of foods, taking appetite suppressants or laxatives, physical symptoms associated with being underweight, extreme exercise, and in females disrupted menstrual cycles and menopause.
Causes for the disorder are not specifically known, however people or more likely to get it if there is a history of eating disorder within the family, substance abuse, emphasis on eating habits and body image, low self-esteem, sexual abuse, anxiety, or an obsessive personality.
Individuals with Anorexia need help as soon as possible in order to recover. They need to see a mental health professional with experience treating the disorder, as well as an eating disorder specialist.
This disorder focuses on a person having regular episodes of binge eating and purging, meaning eating large amounts of food in a short period of time, then using different ways to expel the food either by vomiting or using laxatives. This is done in order to prevent weight gain. Unlike Anorexia, the person is aware that they have abnormal eating patterns, it is most common in teenage girls and young women, however, both males and females can be affected by Bulimia.
Symptoms include having episodes several times a day for months, this intake of food commonly happens in secret and the person feels a complete lack of control over the eating. Furthermore, forcing oneself to vomit, bone problems (osteoporosis), heart and kidney problems, irregular or absent periods, bad breath, damaged teeth, excessive exercise, laxatives, enemas, regularly going to the bathroom after meals. Severe mood changes, fear of putting on weight are also experienced by the individual.
Treatment is often tricky, as with the nature of this disorder, it may not be apparent that the person is behaving that way since much of it is in secret. However, they must be referred to an eating disorder specialist, and go to a mental health specialist.
Binge Eating Disorder
This disorder is similar to Bulimia however is without the purging aspect. The main focus is eating large quantities of food in a short period of time, in an out-of-control manner. This involves feeling uncomfortably full, eating in the absence of hunger, eating alone/secretly, and feeling depressed or guilty after binge eating. This is considered to be the most common eating disorder in the US.
It is not known what exactly causes binge eating however it is more likely to get the disorder if there is a family history of eating disorders, depression or alcohol addiction, body image issues, low self-esteem, sexual abuse, and anxiety.
This means the individual can be met mainly with therapy from a mental health professional, and an eating disorder specialist.
The exact causes of eating disorders are not known. However, as with other mental health conditions, there may be risk factors associated with Eating disorders, such as:
Genetics and vulnerability to eating disorders - an individual may carry a 28% - 74% risk of inheritance from a family member
Overall psychological and emotional health, as the presence of certain disorders, can contribute to eating disorders
Teenage girls and young women are more likely than boys and young men to have eating disorders
Family history of eating disorders
Dieting and starvation, leading to a reduction in appetite
Overall stress with life, and life events
Cultural and Social factors such as:
Overwhelming concern with personal appearance (or if it is projected onto one’s children)
Overwhelming concern on physical fitness (or if it is projected onto one’s children)
A diagnosis for eating disorders is done based on the signs, symptoms, and eating habits of an individual. A number of tests generally include:
Physical examination to rule out any other medical conditions that may be causing eating issues
Psychological evaluation from a qualified mental health service provider. As well as psychological self-assessment questionnaires
They will also evaluate the level of severity of behaviors that are compensatory (i.e. such as forced vomiting of a person with Bulimia)
Recurrent episodes of binge eating
Skipping meals or making excuses to not eat
Adopting an over-restrictive diet
Excessive focus on healthy eating
Persistent worry about losing weight and being fat
Signs of induced vomiting on knuckles (calluses)
Due to the varying nature of disorder subtypes, different treatment methods may be taken to tackle eating disorders, some of which are:
Psychotherapy: There are many different approaches under psychotherapy that can help someone experiencing Eating Disorders. Different approaches are successful with different individuals therefore, the process of finding the right approach and therapist may be difficult at first. It can also lead to some people going for the wrong therapist or technique, and thereby leaving therapy altogether. However, people must keep in mind that therapy is not a “one size fits all” process, and sometimes a person may need to try different approaches in order to determine the best one for themselves using the help of a trained mental health professional. Some types of therapy include:
Behavior Therapy: The goal is to eliminate unwanted behaviors, and strengthen positive behaviors. This would be usually done in environments that are familiar to the individual, such as at home, school, workplace, and others.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT): The goal of CBT treatment is to eliminate negative, and irrational patterns of thinking for other symptoms that come due to living with the condition. Some individuals may have unhealthy internal dialogues, and CBT helps to eliminate those thought patterns.
Medications: There are different classes of medications that could work for eating disorders. A person should never take any kind of medication unless under the supervision of a trained mental health service provider. They should also ensure that they take it exactly according to the instructions and dosage given to them. Medications for eating disorders work best in combination with appropriate and individualized therapy, there are several kinds of medications that work for Bipolar Disorder such as:
Antidepressants: a type of medication that helps relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, as well as other conditions. The goal is to correct any chemical imbalances in the brain that are responsible for mood and mood regulation. Different classes of medications work differently in the brain, some work better than others depending on the individual, their age, their reaction to the medication, and what medications are available to them. As with all kinds of medications, side effects exist for all types of antidepressants and must be discussed with their mental health care provider in order to mitigate these side effects. Antidepressants also carry the risk of abuse and addiction if they are mishandled.
Middle East Eating Disorders Association - https://www.meeda.me/ - A non-profit organization that focuses on raising awareness, providing evidence-based support, research, and collaborations
National Association for Anorexia Nervosa (ANAD) - https://anad.org/ - US non-profit that provides free peer support services to anyone who may be struggling with an eating disorder