Eating disorders are one of the unspoken secrets that affect many families. Eating disturbances may include inadequate or excessive food intake which can ultimately damage an individual’s well-being.
What is Eating Disorder?An eating disorder is a mental disorder defined by abnormal eating habits that negatively affect a person’s physical or mental health. They describe illnesses that are characterized by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight or shape. They occur in both men and women, young and old, rich and poor, and from all cultural backgrounds. Women are more likely than men to have it. They usually start in the teenage years and often occur along with depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse.
Types of Eating DisordersThe most common eating disorders are:
- Anorexia nervosa: when a person tries to keep their weight as low as possible; for example, by starving themselves or exercising excessively
- Bulimia nervosa: when a person goes through periods of binge eating and is then deliberately sick or uses laxatives (medication to help empty the bowels) to try to control their weight
- Binge eating disorder: when a person feels compelled to overeat large amounts of food in a short space of time
- Some people, particularly those who are young, may be diagnosed with an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). This means you have some, but not all, of the typical signs of eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia.
Additional Feeding and Eating Disorders
- Pica This disorder involves eating nonfood substances such as chalk, dirt, or yarn.
- Rumination disorder This condition involves repeated intentional regurgitation of food that is then rechewed, re-swallowed, or spit out.
- Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder This disorder involves food avoidance based on a lack of interest in food or the sensory characteristics of food, or a negative experience with food.
Signs and Symptoms of this DisorderSymptoms vary, depending on the type of eating disorder. Common symptoms include:
- Fluctuations in weight
- Eating patterns unrelated to hunger (such as not letting yourself eat when you’re hungry or binge eating when you’re not hungry)
- Purging food to regain a sense of control after bingeing
- Eating in private, often with accompanying feelings of shame or being disgusted with yourself
- Exercising to maintain your weight, even in bad weather or when you’re injured
- Dependence on or abuse of alcohol is also more common in people with eating disorders.
What Causes an Eating Disorder?The cause of the eating disorder is not clear. It may be associated with biological, genetic or environmental factors combined with a particular event that triggers the disorder.
- Genetics has a significant contribution and may predispose individuals to eating disorders. Researchers have found that it tend to run in families. Also, there seem to be higher rates of eating disorders in identical twins than in fraternal twins or other siblings.
- Individuals with eating disorders may have abnormal levels of certain chemicals in brain that regulate such processes as appetite, mood, sleep and stress.
- Various psychological factors can contribute to eating disorders. In fact, these are common in individuals who struggle with clinical depression, anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Your environment can also play a major role in developing an eating disorder. These factors include:
- Family or other relationship problems
- Difficult or turbulent childhood
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Activities that encourage thinness or focus on weight, such as gymnastics, dancing, running, wrestling and modeling
- Being intimidated because of weight or appearance in general
TreatmentEating disorders can lead to heart and kidney problems and even death. Getting help early is important. Treatment team usually includes a mental health professional, doctor, and a nutritionist. If you want, your family can also be involved in your treatment. The types of treatment available depend on how medically stable you are when you reach treatment. 1) If your life is in imminent danger from your illness, you may need to be admitted to a hospital. Some signs that you may be medically unstable and require immediate hospitalization include:
- Signs of kidney failure, liver failure, or heart failure
- Severe dehydration
- Hypoglycemia (dangerously low blood sugar)
- Hypothermia (low body temperature)
- Extremely low blood pressure
- Abnormal electrolyte or mineral levels in your blood
- Heart palpitations, dizziness, or trouble breathing
- A suicide plan or suicide attempt
ComplicationsEating disorders are rarely about food or wanting to be thin. Instead, sufferers use food and unhealthy behaviors like dieting, starving, bingeing and purging to cope with unpleasant and overwhelming emotions and stressful situations. At least in the short term, these behaviors relieve anxiety and stress. Long-term, however, they actually increase anxiety and stress and create other life-threatening complications. The more severe or long lasting the disorder, the more likely you are to experience serious complications, such as:
- Significant medical problems
- Depression and anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
- Problems with growth and development
- Social and relationship problems
- Substance use disorders
- Work and school issues
Lifestyle and Home RemediesWhen you have an eating disorder, taking care of yourself can help you feel better during and after treatment and help maintain your overall health. Try to make these steps a part of your daily routine:
- Stick to your treatment plan: don’t skip therapy sessions and try not to stray from meal plans.
- Talk to your doctor about appropriate vitamin and mineral supplements to make sure you’re getting all the essential nutrients and also what kind of exercise, if any, is appropriate for you.
- Don’t isolate yourself from caring family members and friends who want to see you get healthy and have your best interests at heart.
- Read self-help books that offer sound, practical advice.
- Resist urges to weigh yourself or check yourself in the mirror frequently. This may simply fuel your drive to maintain unhealthy habits.