If you think an eating disorder is all about food (or not enough), you have yet to understand the concept. There is so much more to eating disorders that the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has to mention as a health condition. An eating disorder is a mental health illness that needs the help of experts in medicine and psychology for its solution. This guide will describe an eating disorder, its types, symptoms, and how it can be treated.
What is a Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are an abnormality in the way we consume food – an unhealthy habit that can have extreme health effects. Often rooted in psychological issues, such as low self-esteem, feeling like an outsider, or other mental health issues like depression and anxiety, these issues can quickly become a dangerous habit. Unfortunately, many people don’t take the symptoms seriously until the disorder has become a serious concern, and the damage has often been done by then. Recognising the signs of an eating disorder and starting treatment immediately to prevent long-term consequences and even death is essential.
Eating disorder symptoms
While there are numerous signs of eating disorders, it is important to recognise that the most common symptom is weight loss. Either the person is underweight or has lost physical strength. Otherwise, the person would be overweight, which could increase the risk of diabetes. Regardless of weight, there are other symptoms of an eating disorder;
The following are the signs of an eating disorder:
- You obsess over dieting, fat grams, calories, food, and weight.
- You are afraid of becoming “fat” or “thin,” so you lose or gain a lot of weight.
- You start to have food binges and severe restrictions on food.
- Sleep becomes irregular
- If you look at your fingers, you might find calluses on your finger joints. This means that your habits induce vomiting or purging.
- Your lab test results (assuming you took them) would be out of the ordinary. Slow heart rate, low blood cell counts, low potassium levels in the body, low hormone levels, low thyroid levels, or even anemia are all possible outcomes.
- You deny when you are hungry, look for excuses to skip mealtime, or people rarely see you eat.
- You weigh yourself a thousand times over
- Your wounds heal too slowly, and you develop a poor immune system function.
- You have severe cold intolerance due to excessive weight reduction. You also get stomach cramps, indigestion, constipation, and other gastrointestinal problems. The same is true for weak muscles.
- You face multiple cases of dizziness or even fainting.
- You also experience dry and thin skin, nails, & hair
- You tend to exercise excessively, and if you normally menstruate, you might start to miss your periods.
- You have difficulty concentrating on something.
Signs of a eating disorder
You might be thinking that we already talked about the symptoms of eating disorders, but you need to know that there are many eating disorder types, and the symptoms differ from one type to the other. Indeed, the signs above are common to people with eating disorders. But if you experience a particular type of eating disorder, there are unique symptoms you would face. To better address this, follow through to the next section.
Types of eating disorders
This is the most common of all types of eating disorders. It is commonly associated with eating restrictions and overexercising and is more common in women than men. People who suffer from Anorexia are usually less than their appropriate weight. They appear thinner or may have altered body contours. Anorexia manifests as in adults and children who are overweight for their age or height. But these are not the only signs of an eating disorder. Other symptoms include the following:
- Your exercise regime is too rigid despite an injury, illness, or weather.
- Your body weight does not correspond to age, stature, or height.
- Overly concerned with diets, fat grams, calories, food, and weight.
- You excessively compare self-esteem to body weight or body figure.
- You always see yourself as overweight, even if you are dangerously underweight.
Anorexia Nervosa is of two types: The binge eating type and the restricting type. Those that are restrictive lose weight strictly through fasting, “excessive” exercise, and dieting. But the binge eating type of Anorexia eating disorder, patients force themselves to purge or vomit by sometimes taking diuretics or laxatives.
The risk factor for Anorexia is that those suffering from it can start to have thin bones, nails and hair, as well as a possibility of infertility. In worse cases, the patient might start to experience multi-organ failure (the failure of more than one organ at once) or even death. But Anorexia is not the only life-threatening eating disorder.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
Though we discussed binge eating briefly before, there is more to the eating problem that makes it exceedingly dangerous and potentially fatal. Binge eating disorder is not only uncontrollable (at least for the one suffering from it), but also unintended. In contrast to the Anorexia problem, in which the individual sincerely wants to reduce weight and then embarks on a fasting binge, this person simply tries to exert control over a terrible decision. Bulimia nervosa is another term for BED.
Binge eaters quickly consume a large amount of food (so much it becomes painful). Then things start to go wrong. They become so guilty and humiliated by their choices that they seek ways to “redeem” themselves. This leads them to the most desirable option: self-inflicted vomiting. Some people also fast or follow an unhealthy diet to halt binge eating. How can you know if you have a binge eating disorder or Bulimia nervosa?
- No matter how much you try to stop, you still return to binge eating. You can’t stop yourself from over-eating, even when you don’t feel hungry or even when you are full.
- You may also hoard food around you.
- You tend to feel guilt after the act, with feelings of depression, low self-esteem, or even disgust towards yourself.
- You take too many visits to the bathroom to either vomit or purge.
- You take too much water than you should to rinse your mouth or to help you feel more stomach comfort.
- There are physical proofs of self-induced vomiting, like calluses on your knuckles.
- You may possess some level of dental cavities.
- You face sore and inflamed throats, acid reflux, and sometimes signs of dehydration.
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
If you recall something concerning the restrictive eating disorder, you have been following this article. Besides binge eating, it was the second form of Anorexia eating disorder. The Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder is similar to Anorexia but not all the way. The difference lies in the distress about body perception. While with Anorexia, the patient is concerned with how they look (regarding size and weight), people with avoidant eating disorders do not worry about weight or “fatness.” The only issue is that they pick what they eat and, as a result, eat less or not at all. The symptoms of Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder include the following:
- Fear of food poisoning, vomiting, or choking.
- Significantly eating selectively with only a small list of preferred meals. The disinterest could be a distaste for the temperature of the food, the texture, the colour, the taste, or even the smell of the food. This symptom usually gets worse with time.
- Weight loss (usually dramatic)
- Despite the picking eating, it is usually never a result of an insecure body image.
- The patient probably tries to avoid eating with people
- Possible dependence on supplements for nutrients
Newly recognised as one of the few eating disorder types, this disorder happens when a person regorges food without knowing it. Re-chewing, re-swallowing, and spitting out previously chewed food is not strange, stressful, or abnormal for someone with a rumination disorder. Furthermore, the individual is neither disgusted nor irritated by this. Because this occurs 30 minutes after eating, the person may be embarrassed to eat in public.
This is the name given to eating disorder types that entail ingesting non-food items. Paint chips, dirt, chalk, soap, paper, ice, metal, and even hair are on the menu for those suffering from Pica eating disorder. This feature can last for a month or more. This condition is most common in youngsters but can also be found in adults and teenagers. This eating issue may affect people with autism spectrum disorder. Poisoning, nutritional deficiencies, and even death might occur depending on the material ingested.
Other eating disorders
Other eating disorder types include:
- Purging disorder: This does not include binge eating (excessive eating). These groups of people simply force themselves to purge to control their weight.
- Night eating syndrome is an eating disorder involving people eating uncontrollably at night.
- Orthorexia: This happens when a person is too obsessive about a “healthy lifestyle”; the person might even start to eliminate food choices and entire food groups. Usually, orthorexia leads to weight loss, emotional distress, self-imposed diet rules, and difficulty eating out.
Treatment for Eating Disorder Types
Eating disorder treatment is not universal because it affects people differently (not to mention the differences in types). The best method to deal with an eating disorder is to get treatment from a therapist or counsellor. It is critical to seek help as soon as possible because severe forms of eating disorders frequently result in increased health risks and even death. Aside from a skilled psychotherapist, the following can be beneficial:
- Medications: The doctor may prescribe some medications to help with the mental health conditions that come with or cause eating disorders. While the medications differ from person to person, it would most likely be to uplift depression, anxiety, or low-mood symptoms.
- Nutritional counselling: Another way to help is to visit a dietician who can help you better understand the right way to eat, the nutrients to pay attention to, and the ways to burn calories (if you should be burning them).
With all that has been discussed, you can now tell that an eating disorder is not a condition you can overlook. The symptoms are life-threatening, and they tamper with the quality of life. It is not just about a desperate concern to “slim down”; it could also be an uncontrollable urge to eat too much and then, later on, induce vomiting. Then, if it is anything close to Pica, the constituents of the menu aren’t even considered food. That’s why it is essential for you if you notice you have any of these signs, to seek help from a counsellor right away.