Suffering From Eating Disorders? Read This!

Overview | Types | Symptoms | Causes | Effects | Risks factors | Complications | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention |

What is called eating disorders?

Formally defined as ‘Feeding and eating disorders in DSM-5, the term eating disorders represents a group of complex mental health conditions which includes severe persistent disturbances in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions. It works as an obsession for food, body weight, body shape, and size. It may sound like an issue related to eating food, but it is not only about eating; it’s much more than this.

In most eating disorders, focusing too much on your body weight, body shape and it’s size involves, which leads to dangerous eating behaviors. It negatively impacts your body’s ability to get proper nutrition and function in important areas of life.

It may sound ‘casual’ but it’s not. It puts harmful effects on the heart, digestive systems, bones, teeth, mouth, and many other parts of our body. It can lead to other diseases too. It also involves mental health condition, maybe because it impacts can have a psychological and biological effect on us. It can not only develop severe health conditions but may also lead to death if left untreated.

It can be developed by anyone, regardless of their age, gender, etc. But, it is mostly found in adolescents and young women.

Fact: In the U.S., about 20 million women and 10 million men have or have had eating disorders once in their life.

Types and symptoms of eating disorders:

  1. Anorexia Nervosa: It includes self-starvation and weight loss, resulting in being underweight for height and age. It can be very dangerous. Although anyone can develop this, women are more likely to. It has a dieting behavior that gets drive by an intense fear of weight gain and becoming fat. It is potentially life-threatening due to the practice of self-starvation. A person with this opts for excessive exercising, laxatives, diet aids, and even vomiting after eating to control their weight and shape.

There are two subtypes of anorexia nervosa —

  • Restricting type – In this, people lose weight primarily by dieting, fasting, or excessive exercising.
  • Binge eating or purging type – In this, people engaged in both, binge eating and purging behavior.

Symptoms:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Poor concentration
  • Fatigue and irritability
  • Muscles weakness
  • Menstrual periods cease
  • Heartburn and reflux
  • Cold intolerance
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting from dehydration
  • Severe constipation
  • Bloating
  • Feeling of excessive fullness after eating
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Bone loss or osteoporosis (due to excessive exercising)
  • Stress fracture from compulsive exercises.
  • Bulimia Nervosa – This includes cycles of extreme overeating, known as binging, and is also followed by purging or other behaviours to compensate for the overeating. It also includes a feeling of loss of control about eating. An individual with this first eat too much and then try to lose extra calories in an unhealthy way.

Symptoms:

  • A fear of gaining weight
  • A self-esteem overly influenced by body weight, shape and size.
  • Binge eating disorders – If you have this kind of disorder, you regularly binge too much food and feel a lack of control over eating. You may eat more food than intended even when you are not hungry.

Symptoms:

  • Feeling lack of control during binge eating
  • Feeling of stress, shame, guilt while thinking about binge eating.

Other eating disorders:

Other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED) – A term used when a person shows eating disorders symptoms but dies not to reach the threshold for clinical diagnosis.

Unspecified feeding or eating disorders (UFED) – In this, a person displays behavior related to eating disorders but could not meet any symptoms of it.

Pica – This involves eating things despite food, such as ice, chalk, paper, soap etc.

Rumination disorders – It describes a condition in which a person regurgitates the previously chewed and swallowed food, re-chews it, and then either re-swallow it or spits it out; typically within 30 minutes of meal consumption.

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorders (ARFID) – This involves restricted food intake in the absence of the body image. It is manifested by persistent failure to meet appropriate nutrition than needed.

Symptoms

  • Weight loss
  • Poor development of age and height
  • Nutrition deficiency etc.

Causes of eating disorders:

  • Genetics and biology
  • Emotional health
  • Psychological health
  • Environmental factors
  • Dieting
  • Abuse
  • Bullying
  • Mental illness
  • Weight Stigma
  • Puberty
  • Stress
  • Life transitions
  • Personality traits like perfectionism, impulsivity etc.
  • Abnormal brain structure
  • Inappropriate levels of serotonin and dopamine etc.

Risks factors:

  • Heart rhythm abnormalities
  • Biological factors –
  • Psychological factors –
  • Perfectionism
  • Setting unrealistic high expectations
  • Social anxiety
  • Family history
  • Mental health disorders
  • Dieting and starvation
  • Stress

Complications:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Serious health problems
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Social and relationship problems
  • Problems with growth and development
  • Issues in professional life
  • Death

Diagnosis:

Eating disorders can be diagnosed by mental health professionals including psychiatrists and psychologists. There are no specific tests to diagnose eating disorders. But, your doctor can use a variety of physical and psychological evaluations as well as lab tests to make your diagnosis. The process of diagnosis may include —

  • Physical exam – To check your height, weight, symptoms, etc.
  • Lab tests –
  • Complete blood count
  • Liver, kidney, and thyroid function tests.
  • Urinalysis  
  • Electrocardiogram
  • X-ray
  • Psychological evaluation – Questions about your binge eating, eating behaviors, purging, etc.

Multiple assessment tools to assess a person ‘symptoms are as follows:

  • Eating disorders inventory
  • Eating attitude tests
  • Eating disorders examination questionnaire etc.

Treatment:

Early diagnosis plays an important role in the treatment to get an improved outcome. There are a lot of treatment options available, your doctor can opt for the appropriate one for you, which suits you based on your symptoms.

  • Self-help – Try to read and research your symptoms to know more about them and it’s solutions.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy – This is believed as the best therapy to treat eating disorders.
  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Body image exposure
  • Limiting body-checking
  • Food exposure
  • Meal planning
  • Regular eating
  • Relapse prevention
  • Delays and alternatives
  • Self-monitoring via paper or applications
  • Family-based treatment
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Weekly outpatient treatment
  • Intensive treatment etc.

Prevention:

  • Avoid unnecessary dieting and have a balanced diet
  • Cultivate and reinforce a healthy body image.
  • Practice mindfulness meditation
  • Practice yoga every day
  • Find a healthy distraction like writing a journal, etc. To go with while having an urge to binge eating.

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