Eating disorders are serious illnesses, which affect all kinds of people, characterized by a disturbance with one’s body image, food and weight. Examples include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. These disorders arise from a rejection to changes around the person, which becomes a rejection to food. These illnesses have a devastating impact and toll physically and mentally to the one affected. Eating disorders are complex and serious psychological illnesses known for disturbances with eating behaviors. There are numerous eating disorders affecting people worldwide.
Eating disorders are complex illnesses that can be characterized with a disturbance with eating behaviors. Eating disorders are both mental and physical disorders. These are life-threatening and have serious health consequences. They are characterized by a preoccupation with gaining weight. Eating disorders do not discriminate and affect people of all genders and races. This means you could be under or overweight, black, white, tall, small, and the list goes on, and still acquire this type of disorder. They affect people of all genders, races and body types. Eating disorders are often acquired as a coping mechanism. They could be described as a physical manifestation of anxiety and/or depression. Low self-esteem could also factor into this. Lastly, eating disorders are not a choice.
The psychological side of an eating disorder is crucial with its development and seriousness. As stated before, eating disorders’ main characteristic is having a disturbance with your own body image, and obsessing about food. This is usually related to a fear of gaining weight. The toxic stigma surrounding body image and bullying also take part in the development of these illnesses. The “need” for this unrealistic, perfect body image is met and fulfilled by creating a “rule book.” This is a way of controlling or taking responsibility of your weight, since you can’t fix or control problems or what’s going on around you. That overwhelming feeling leads to the search for something the affected can control: their weight. Since the affected can’t control or stop their parents’ fighting or why they’re feeling sad or lost, for example, something they can control and take responsibility over is their weight. The rule book consists of “prohibited” behaviors the person can’t do, such as snacking between meals and having dessert. Additionally, although eating disorders all have similar characteristics each case is unique. Another common behavior is being concerned with calories. They will often avoid eating with family and friends, to avoid their judgement towards their eating behaviors. People with eating disorders feel that when they start eating, they won’t be able to stop. This is the body’s instinct for the lack of energy it is receiving. Meals often are followed by feelings of guilt and regret. Eating disorders are among the psychiatric illnesses with the highest mortality rates, since they can affect every single system in the body, from the nervous to the cardiovascular system.
There are numerous types of eating disorders, Anorexia Nervosa is the most common and serious of all. Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by extreme, drastic weight loss and a fear of gaining weight. Once again, there’s no “look” nor stereotype. Everyone can be affected, including over and underweight individuals. Anorexics see a distorted image of themselves, which is larger than what it actually is. Behaviors include counting calories, constant weighing, and feeling helpless and useless while or after eating. They experience guilt many times after eating which leads, in some cases, to purging and exercising excessively prior to eating. Even though they are hungry, they deny it and convince themselves they are not. Additionally, even though some are underweight, they still feel fat. It all comes down and depends on the number on the scale. If that number is low enough, then they allow themselves to eat what they consider a normal amount of food. If not, they skip the meal or eat little food. Meals could be described as the reward for not gaining weight. The body also suffers, often developing lanugo, when the body grows thin hair throughout the body to warm the body temperature. They also may develop amenhorrea: loosing your menstrual cycle. Both of these are due to malnutrition and lack of body fat. Despite all of this, they deny the seriousness of their problem. Anorexia is the psychiatric illness with the highest mortality rate, due to the fact that it can lead to sudden cardiac arrest and electrolyte imbalances.
Another common eating disorder is Bulimia Nervosa, recognized for bingeing periods. Bulimia is known for periods of excessive calorie intake (up to 1000 calories an hour) followed by purging methods, excessive exercise or the use of laxatives to “compensate” their intake. During bingeing periods they feel no control over what they’re doing and feel guilt. Side effects include a stomach rupture due to vomiting too much. Bingeing periods are, in average, once a week. These periods are harmful both physically and mentally. People with this disorder avoid weight gain by purging. There’s often binge-eating evidence in the person’s behavior, like going to the bathroom straight after meals, and food disappearing from the kitchen. Bulimia can lead to electrolyte imbalances, dental decay, stomach rupture, and dehydration.
Although eating disorders are hard to go through, with the help of specialists and support from their families many are able to overcome these illnesses. It is important the stigmas surrounding body images are eliminated. Eating disorders have a greater chance of recovery the sooner they’re diagnosed, since they affect every organ in the body. They’re diagnosed by observing the person’s behaviors towards food and their attitude regarding eating, weight, body image, and more behaviors such as denying their problem and refusing to eat. Doctors will also look at anatomical symptoms, since systems like the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and endocrine are usually affected. Recovery is a cycle, and it is not linear — it is hard and usually includes relapsing. Recovery involves the cooperation of the patient and their family. The person starts to break the rule book slowly and it’s a journey of self-discovery. There are numerous types of treatments, two of these are In-Patient and Family Based Treatment. During In-patient treatment, the person is admitted to the hospital and monitored while eating and in some cases, fed through a tube. This is usually done in severe malnutrition cases. They are released when the doctors feel they are healthy both physically and mentally. Family Based Treatment is based on letting the family of the affected take full control of their meals, and monitor their meals every single day. The person with the eating disorder’s “job” is to eat what their parents put on the plate. This is more common with teens and children, but is also done many times with young adults. The parents take control of the meals to relieve the affected from some of the stress preparing food brings them. When the patient has restored their weight, the parents will start letting their child become more involved with their meals, little by little. Recovery is backed up by a huge team of people backing up the patient. Nutritionists make meal plans to ensure the patient receives at least their minimum calorie requirement, psychologists aid with appointments throughout the process, psychiatrists, pediatricians, and more.
Eating disorders are real and serious. They’re not just wanting to be skinny, nor a phase caught by someone for some time. They’re rejecting food, a punishment to yourself. They’re isolation, starvation, malnutrition and more. Every 62 minutes someone dies from an eating disorder, but also many people are able to overcome these illnesses and create a healthy relationship with food. Recovery is a long process but it’s very much possible. Look for the signs, and if someone is showing the behavior of eating disorders let them know and get them help. You could save a life.