Eating disorders are a serious and persistent disturbance of eating and eating behaviors. According to The National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders (ANAD), an estimated 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. It spares no gender, age, SES, religion or race.
Eating disorders also have the highest mortality rate among any mental illness (National Institute of Mental Health). Although the basis of an eating disorder is usually not about food, it manifests as a person’s life feels consumed by behaviors such as calorie counting, monitoring numbers on a scale, body checking, excessive exercise, or planning the next binge/purge episode. Dropping out from important areas of life and becoming isolated from loved ones, may feel reminiscent to an addiction or a toxic relationship, but for many this is also a descriptor of what it may feel like to struggle with an eating disorder.
Due to the complex nature of eating disorders, there is no one defined factor for the development of this illness. Some contributors include Biological factors (i.e. genetics), Social factors (i.e. society pressures), Psychological factors (i.e. anxiety, depression, OCD), and Interpersonal factors (i.e. history of abuse, bullying). Although symptoms manifest in relation to food, usually the disorder stems as a maladaptive way to manage thoughts and emotions that are perceived as uncomfortable or distressing to the individual.
Signs of an Eating Disorder
Individuals struggling with an eating disorder may present some of these behaviors or emotional signs:
- Preoccupied with food
- Consuming very limited variety of foods
- Social withdrawal
- Mood swings
- Fixation on weight
- Eating Alone or avoiding social events involving food
- Poor/distorted self-image
- Food rituals (i.e. cutting food into small pieces, unusual food combinations)
- Self-harm (cutting)
- Going to the bathroom shortly after eating
- Substance abuse
Three of the most common classifications of eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder and Bulimia Nervosa.
1. Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia affects both males and females and usually starts in adolescence or early adulthood. It is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM-5); the three main features of Anorexia Nervosa are:
- Restricting food relative to the nutrition that the individual needs based on age, height and sex. Restriction leads to a significantly low body weight.
- The intense fear of weight gain or persistent behaviors that interfere with weight gain.
- A disturbance with way the individual perceives their weight or shape.
Medical consequences associated with Anorexia may include, hormonal imbalance, GI complications due to malnutrition, stomach aches, bloating, constipation, loss of or weakened heart muscle, heart palpitations, Bradycardia and tachycardia, and edema.
2. Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
The main characteristics of Binge Eating Disorder (BED) are the recurrent episodes of binging that occurs at least once per week for at least 3 months. A binge eating episode can be described as eating an amount of food that would be considered excessive for most people to eat in a similar period under similar circumstances (American Psychiatric Association). In BED there is no purging behaviors after the binge episode. A feeling of lack of control is felt during a binge episode, this may be manifested as the perceived inability to stop eating once a binge episode has started.
Some medical complications that may occur is obesity, increased blood pressure, kidney problems, heart disease, sleep apnea, and type II diabetes.
3. Bulimia Nervosa
Individuals struggling with Bulimia can sometimes go unnoticed by loved ones due to the individual typically being within their normal weight range, they also may be overweight. The symptoms of bulimia are usually secretive and conducted alone. Symptoms of Bulimia consist of:
- Recurrent episodes of binge eating, which is eating large amounts of food that is relatively larger than what most individuals would consume in a discrete amount of time. Individuals associate an episode with a feeling of lack of control, some may describe it as feeling in a “trance”.
- Recurrent purging (i.e. self-induced vomiting, laxative use, edema)
- Negative self-evaluation influenced by body shape and weight. It is common for calories to be restricted between binges. Foods that are considered “fattening” or that may trigger a binge are avoided.
Some medical consequences may include, inflamed throat, swollen salivary glands which may be noticed in unusual swelling of jaw or cheek area, tooth decay, GI reflux disorder, constipation due to laxative abuse, and severe dehydration due to purging.
The chances of recovering from an eating disorder are improved the sooner treatment begins. If you have noticed signs that you or a loved one may be struggling with an eating disorder, it is important to reach out to a therapist to assist with assessment and to collaborate in a plan for recovery.
The therapeutic relationship assists clients in identifying influential factors and learning the tools and skills needed to battle an eating disorders and underlying issues. One of the most common obstacles to getting help in eating disorders is a lack of awareness or denial of a problem due to a distorted perception of body image or symptomology.
Please call 305-936-8000, for more information or to set an appointment to meet with a therapist specialized in treating eating disorders.