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What is an eating disorder?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Approximately 20 million women and girls and 10 million men and boys in America have an eating disorder.” An eating disorder is a severe mental health issue defined by irregular eating patterns. There are significant physical and psychological repercussions, and thus entails a prolonged change in eating habits or behaviors, including limiting food intake, binge eating, or purging. Whereas people mistakenly stereotype young girls as the only victims, these complicated illnesses can affect anyone of any age, gender, or background.
Your issues matter, don’t downplay your symptoms
Moreover, it is a complex mental illness, it is not a simple matter of willpower or personal preference. Eating disorders are health conditions that can lead to unhealthy eating habits, deep dissatisfaction with appearance, and negative body image.
Symptoms of eating disorders
- Significant weight changes: Whether someone gains or loses weight depends on their condition. Anorexic individuals may rapidly lose a lot of weight. However, bulimic individuals may experience a fluctuation in weight due to *binging and purging *(overeating).
- Distorted body image: People with eating disorders may perceive themselves as overweight or obese, even when they are underweight or at a healthy weight. Their overall definition of “ideal” is skewed and does not align with healthy eating standards.
- Obsession with food and calories: Spending excessive amounts of time your planning meals, restricting meals, refusing to eat high-calorie food, or counting calories are possible signs of an eating disorder.
- Restrictive eating patterns: Labeling foods, refusing to eat foods one perceived as “bad” and/or ignoring your body’s hunger cues are signs of restrictive eating.
- Binge eating: Feeling a lack of control over your body and appetite and over consuming food quickly. For example, eating an 8-inch cake in under 5 minutes. This practice is often followed by guilt, regret, and self-deprecation.
- Social withdrawal and isolation: Struggling to eat around others and refusing to go out your with friends and family because you don’t feel comfortable eating around them is another sign.
- Excessive exercise: Exercising too much to compensate for calories consumed by eating is another unhealthy behavior many eating disorder patients show. Your brain deals with the stress, guilt, and regret of eating “too many” calories by exercising too much.
- Secretive behavior around food: Another symptom of having unsafe relations with food is eating, especially eating “unhealthy” food in secret to curb negative reactions from others.
- Mood Fluctuations: Eating disorders can cause you depression, high irritability, and make you want to be alone more often.
- Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals: Oftentimes, you try to purge soon after eating so that you don’t digest the food.
- Physical changes: You may experience chapped lips, grayed skin, fatigue, dizziness, fainting, hair loss, dry skin, brittle nails, constipation, irregular menstrual periods, and low body temperature.
What are the different types of eating disorders?
- Anorexia nervosa: The struggle with eating enough to feed your body.
- Bulimia nervosa: Binging large quantities of food in a short period of time, but purging before you digest the food. The difference between bulimia and BED is that bulimic individuals try to purge after eating by exercising or forcing themselves to vomit, while BED individuals don’t do this.
- Binge eating disorder (BED): Consuming large quantities of food quickly feeling unable to stop. Feeling guilt, shame, and regret after eating.
- Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED): The diagnosis for those who do not fit the symptoms of other eating disorders. OSFED can include diagnoses such as night eating (NES) and atypical anorexia (AED).
What causes eating disorders?
Usually, eating disorders are the result of various factors. Below is a list of some factors that can cause an eating disorder. Please realize that an eating disorder is called an illness because it’s not in your control. Therefore, if someone gets diabetes, we don’t blame that person. Instead we try to understand the cause, treatment, and make a plan for prevention. Thus, eating disorders are in no one’s control, so the best thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones is to see a doctor and start treatment.
- Brain biology
- Cultural and social ideals
- Mental health issues (anxiety, depression, and/or obsessive-compulsive disorder)
- A history of trauma (physical, emotional, or sexual).
- History of dieting
How can I prevent an eating disorder?
- Start seeing a psychiatrist – A medical professional can provide assistance in giving you a healthier relationship with food, yourself, as well as your body.
- Quit over-exercising
- Eat three meals a day
- Quit using laxatives to induce vomit
- Avoiding labeling food as good or bad
- Join organizations that are passionate about helping those with eating disorders. Below are some examples:
- Love Our Bodies, Love Ourselves! A movement by the Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness (PEDAW) campaign
- Jessie’s Legacy Eating Disorders Prevention & Awareness Program
- The Looking Glass Foundation for Eating Disorders
- National Eating Disorders Association
- National Alliance for Eating Disorders
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
- Project HEAL
When should I see a doctor?
Firstly, when you see the symptoms listed above in yourself or a loved one, please seek medical attention. Eating disorders are not as simple as food choices or dieting, they are complex medical conditions that can cause severe problems if left untreated.
Secondly, ask yourself, what are the treatments for eating disorders?
Thirdly, since eating disorders diagnoses vary significantly, the treatment plans are also varied. Most programs include medical, psychological, and nutritional approaches. The individual may need to be on medication, hospitalized (if the condition is severe), or work with a medical professional to help improve their relationship with food and their body.
Don’t be afraid to speak up if you think you have an eating disorder. Click here to read how you can embrace your beautiful body as you are.