Eating Disorders: An Overview
We all need to eat, and the majority of us enjoy it. Food is often a huge component of coming together with the people we love, in addition to sustaining our bodies. Indeed, it's difficult to envision living without the numerous social activities we've created around food sharing.
However, for those with eating disorders, bad food and body image interactions can lead to serious social, emotional, and medical problems. Eating disorders, if left untreated, can result in catastrophic repercussions such as organ failure or even death.
Eating Disorders: What Are They & How Do They Affect You?
There are numerous forms of eating disorders, and some persons may exhibit symptoms from more than one. The following are the most frequent eating disorders:
- Anorexia nervosa is a disorder in which patients starve themselves or severely restrict their food intake on purpose
- Bulimia nervosa is a disorder in which a person eats a lot of food and then purges it, usually by vomiting, laxatives, or excessive exercise
- Binge-eating is a condition in which a person eats excessively but does not purge
Eating Disorders: What Causes Them?
There are a variety of reasons why someone may develop an eating disorder, none of them are only motivated by vanity. In fact, eating disorder sufferers frequently have low self-esteem. Past trauma, a loss of control over one's life, feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and sadness are all issues that some persons with eating disorders face. Even if the issues they're facing have nothing to do with food or eating, controlling what they eat is one method to gain control over their lives.
Body dysmorphia is a condition in which someone becomes fixated on perceived imperfections in their appearance, even if they are small or cannot be seen by others. It is common in people with eating disorders.
Outside influences, such as cultural demands to be thin or "perfect," can also lead to someone developing an unhealthy relationship with food or their own body image.
Because eating disorders are characterized by compulsive thoughts and behaviors, it can be difficult for some people to stop even when they are aware that the activity is detrimental.
Who is at Risk for Eating Disorders?
At all phases of life, eating problems affect people of all genders. In fact, 9% of the population of the United States will acquire an eating disorder during their lives. However, they are particularly common among teenagers and young women: according to research, up to 13% of young individuals will have at least one eating disorder by the age of 20.
Eating Disorder Signs and Symptoms
Living with an eating problem may be difficult, especially because food plays such an important role in our lives.
It can be difficult to distinguish between an eating disorder and regular weight worries or dieting, especially in a culture where dieting is prevalent. People who binge, purge, or starve themselves typically hide their behavior, making it difficult to detect an eating disorder. Check for these warning signals if you fear someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder:
Changes in Food and Body Image-Related Behaviors
- They are starving themselves or reducing their food intake, such as eating much less than their daily calorie requirements
- Acting tyrannical when it comes to eating and/or preferring to eat alone
- Excessive exercise, such as self-induced vomiting or the use of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas Purging, such as self-induced vomiting or the use of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas
- Long, unexplained trips to the bathroom, or the desire to use the restroom immediately after each meal
consuming a big amount of food in a short period of time and not being able to stop
- Having a lack of spontaneity when it comes to eating and/or a high level of tension when it comes to mealtime
Obsessive Food & Body Image Thoughts
- Obsession with being slim
- Belief that they are obese, regardless of how thin they are. Hiding their extremely thin body with large, heavy apparel
- Body image issues and frequent harsh comments about their appearance
- Rigid rules and attitudes regarding what foods can and should be eaten, as well as how they should be consumed
- Having high expectations for how good they are at losing weight
Shifts In Mood
- Suffering from depression or anxiety
- When asked about their eating habits, they become defensive or irritated
- Acting in a controlling manner when it comes to allowing others to see their feelings, or being emotionally repressed
- Guilt, powerlessness, or a low sense of self-worth
Physical Appearance Changes
- Excessive or rapid weight loss
- Feeling chilly all the time
- Skin that is dry and yellowish
- Hair that is fine
- Nails that are brittle
- Frequent purging can cause mouth sores, chronic sore throat, or "chipmunk cheeks" (when the glands on the sides of the jaw grow)
- It's possible that girls who are underweight will miss their menstruation
How To Communicate With Someone Who Has An Eating Disorder
It's critical not to dismiss your concerns if someone you know is exhibiting warning symptoms of an eating disorder. Being open and honest about what you notice, as well as having the confidence to initiate a conversation about it, could save your loved one's life. While it's critical to share your concerns, there are a variety of approaches that are more and less helpful. Consider the following suggestions.
Make An Effort To:
- Choose a time when you will be able to speak privately, ideally in person
- Express your worries in a compassionate, non-judgmental manner. While speaking, try to be calm, respectful, and upbeat
- Prepare a list of specific instances. It's critical to be direct and discuss what you've noticed concerning their behavior changes
Try To Stay Away From:
- Making a remark about the person's appearance. Even a complement can encourage the focus on image and weight, which may seem paradoxical
- Suggestions for simple remedies or assurances that stopping their conduct will be straightforward: "If you'd simply quit, everything would be wonderful!"
- They are being chastised for their eating habits
- Trying to persuade or compel them to eat. When people with eating disorders don't feel like they have any control over their lives, they turn to food for comfort
- Making demands on what they eat will simply exacerbate the situation
Don't give up if your friend or loved one refuses to talk about it or doesn't respond properly. Continue to check in. Let them know you care and that you'll be there for them when they're ready to talk—and, perhaps, get help. It is critical to seek therapy for an eating disorder. People with eating disorders, especially those who have had them for a long period, will almost certainly require the assistance of a mental health professional in order to modify their relationship with food and build healthier coping mechanisms.
Looking For Eating Disorder Treatment
Eating disorders tend to worsen over time, and if ignored, they can lead to major long-term health problems. So, if you suspect someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, the sooner you speak up, the higher their prospects of recovery. It's never too early to get help if you think you're having trouble with your connection with food.
Visit the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website or phone or text the NEDA hotline at 800-931-2237 if you or someone you know needs help with an eating problem.