WHAT IS AN EATING DISORDER?
When our relationship with food turns into an obsession in which various aspects of our life are affected negatively, this is when we can begin to talk about eating disorders.
Eating disorders is a mental health illness along a spectrum of severity in which a person has irregular eating patterns and displays distress and concern over their body image and weight. The eating patterns may be excessive or insufficient. In some extreme cases, it can be so insufficient that it can lead one’s body to literally shut down.
This is a type of eating disorder known as Anorexia Nervosa. Anorexia is the deadliest of all mental health disorders with 1 in 5 deaths by suicide as a result of weight loss and starvation.
Eating disorders can start at any age, from infancy to adulthood, although the majority will generally appear during adolescence. Both men and women may struggle with various types of eating disorders.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF EATING DISORDERS?
There most common type of eating disorders include:
• Anorexia Nervosa, which is characterized by an obsessive fear over gaining weight, a distorted body image as well as a refusal to maintain a healthy body weight. Many will limit the amount of food and drink they consume. Their perception of their body is a false one as they continuously think that they are overweight even when clinically underweight. There are many health risks associated with anorexia such as osteoporosis, cancer, infertility, brain damage, cardiovascular disease, to name a few.
• Bulimia Nervosa, which is characterized by repeated cycles of binge eating followed by self-induced purging along with other behaviors such as excessive use of laxatives, diuretics or exercise. The binge and purge cycle is an addictive process that leaves the person feeling guilty and ashamed. Health risks are also multiple such as cardiovascular and gastrointestinal.
• Binge Eating Disorder, which is characterized by a loss of control over one’s eating. The difference with bulimia is that the binges are not followed by episodes of purging, exercising or fasting. Obesity is common as a result of binge eating as well as other health issues like cardiovascular disease.
• Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (or ARFID), previously known as Selective Eating Disorder, is a feeding disturbance characterized by a lack of interest in certain foods or eating; a concern over the consequences of eating as well as the avoidance of foods as a result of their texture, colour, brand, presentation or previous negative experience of vomiting for example. As a result, the person with ARFID will eat small portions which in turn will affect their growth and potentially lead to develop other eating disorders.
• Orthorexia, which is characterized by an obsessive pursuit of a healthy diet as opposed to an ideal weight. The focus will be on foods that are ‘pure’ and ‘healthy’. They will usually avoid foods such as animal or dairy products, pesticides, processed foods, artificial flavors, sugar, fat, salt. Orthorexia can frequently co-occur with anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders.
• Muscle Dysmorphia, is a type of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, also known as ‘Bigorexia’ (or Adonis Complex), or also ‘Reverse Anorexia’. It is characterized by a severe preoccupation with not being sufficiently lean or muscular enough (when this is clearly not the case). The person will spend excessive amount of time weightlifting, overtraining, following special diets or excessive protein supplements. Steroid use is also very common.
• Other Specified Feeding & Eating Disorders (OSFED), previously known as Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), is characterized by behaviors that do not meet the full criteria of a typical eating disorder profile. An example of OSFED is Night Eating Syndrome, whereby the person wakes up at night to eat excessively. Or Purging Disorder, whereby the person will use self-induced vomiting, or laxative misuse or diuretics to control their weight without binging on food.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF EATING DISORDERS?
There are multiple factors that can contribute to someone falling prey to developing an eating disorder. These are usually classified as biological, psychological and / or environmental causes.
Below is a list of possible causes:
• Genetics • Irregular hormone • Chemical imbalance • Nutritional deficiencies • Poor body image • Low self-worth • Difficult upbringing
• Traumas • Culture or peer pressure
TREATMENT FOR EATING DISORDERS?
Even though these conditions can be complex, they are treatable and recovery is possible. Some types of eating disorders are longer to treat, others may be treated much faster.
Eating disorders often co-exist with other conditions such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse. These are important to address and work through within the treatment.
The best treatment will depend on the severity of the eating disorder presented. Some people will require hospitalization, or be admitted in a specialized eating disorder residential treatment center, whilst others could recover as an outpatient through the help of eating disorders specialist in various clinics.
Many people with eating disorders will resist recovery out of denial or fear. Building awareness will be an important first step towards developing motivation to want to change and recover. This can sometimes take a long time. The eating disorder behavior will usually have a functional role for the person and it is therefore part of therapy and the recovery process that the person learns to better understand the reason behind their behaviour as well as learn various evidence-based strategies that are known to help assist in successful recoveries.
Treatment for eating disorders will usually comprise of medical doctors, nutritionists and psychologists.
Cogntive Behavioural Therapy Enhanced (or CBT-E) has been shown to produce very good results. This is based on an intensive personalized transdiagnostic psychological therapy method.
If you suspect a loved one to be struggling with eating disorders, or if you yourself are struggling with an eating disorder, please do not hesitate to reach out. We will be happy to help. Our private personalized intensive CBT and Mindfulness program has great results with reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression that are very often association with eating disorders. This in turn can help the person to learn improved ways of coping and relating to food as well as relating to their body.