In this month’s blog, we will chat about the three main eating disorders and the importance of seeking help if you or someone you care about displays the signs and symptoms of disordered eating. Eating disorders predominantly affect women and lead to poor health outcomes, including heart disease, kidney failure and even death in extreme situations. Eating disorders frequently develop among teenagers or young adults and are often accompanied by psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety and substance use disorder.
You may have heard about anorexia or anorexia nervosa. This disease is characterized by persistent restriction of food intake associated with an irrational fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of one’s body image. An individual with anorexia nervosa typically has a body mass index that is below what would be normal for them.
Another common eating disorder is bulimia nervosa. Individuals with bulimia will eat frequently and in unusually large amounts (i.e. binge-eating). They feel like they have lost control over their eating habits. This drives them towards compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives/diuretics, fasting or excessive exercising.
A similar phenomenon to bulimia is binge-eating disorder. Individuals with this type of eating disorder will binge-eat and feel a loss of control over his or her eating patterns. However, this binge-eating is not followed by compensatory purging, excessive exercise or fasting. As such, people with this type of eating disorder tend to be overweight or obese.
People with eating disorders often do not realize that they have a problem. Therefore, if confronted with the idea of seeking help for their disordered eating and thoughts, they may resist getting and staying in treatment. Studies show that men with eating disorders are less willing to seek treatment. If you feel that you, or someone you care about, may have an eating disorder, here are some considerations in support of seeking treatment.
- Eating disorders is a psychological diagnosis, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that mental health professionals across the globe refer to. They are not a made-up phenomenon and should be addressed.
- Eating disorders are associated with abuse, trauma, low self-esteem, bullying, poor family dynamics and other psychiatric conditions as well as personality sub-types. They are caused by a complex interplay between genetics and the environment. If someone displays symptoms of disordered eating, it is not their fault. They should seek treatment, just as a patient with diabetes or cancer would seek treatment for their conditions.
- There are proven, successful treatments for eating disorders, including psychiatric drugs (such as fluoxetine) and specific types of psychotherapy (including cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT). Treatment for eating disorders typically involves a multi-pronged approach that includes medical care, nutritional counselling and psychotherapy.
Hopefully, this post has been helpful in introducing the topic of eating disorders. It is easy to attribute stereotypes and neglect this particular psychiatric phenomenon but, as mentioned above, these disorders can be associated with very severe health outcomes. As such, it is crucial to recognize disordered eating and start to manage it early.