What Are Eating Disorders?
An eating disorder is a mental disorder, defined by abnormal eating habits ,that negatively affect a person’s physical or mental health and has some of the highest mortality rates, across all mental illness.
Eating disorders have been documented back to the 12th Century. Before that in the time of Caeser, it was common for wealthy Romans to eat and binge.
They overindulged at lavish banquets and then relieved themselves by vomiting, so they could return to the feast and continue eating.
In the late 1970s, it became a public topic, again. With the most common eating disorders, linked to low self esteem and body image.
So, what’s new across the eating disorder narrative, and why do we need to take a more holistic approach to treatment of the illness?
Most Common Eating Disorders
Anorexia & Bulimia – Anorexia is characterised by a low body weight and food restriction. The fear of gaining weight and a strong desire to be thin, engages people in restrictive eating behaviours or a binge/ purge cycle to compensate for eating forbidden or highly restricted food.
This is often confused with bulimia, because people suffering with bulimia also purge. Unlike anorexics, they eat extreme or excessive amounts of food very often.
Compulsive & Binge Eating – is associated with emotional eating, the use of food to fill a void or self soothe. It is the eating disorder which effects the most people, particularly men.
Compulsive or binge eaters will often binge on high calorie foods, which are often high in carbohydrates, fats and sugars, to help manage difficult feelings and emotions.
Despite, the common belief that compulsive or binge eaters suffer with extreme obesity and yo- yo diet. This is not always true, as many binge eaters are within a healthy weight range, .
Orthorexia & Body image. Clean eating has become a fashionable diet fad and is commonly defined as the socially acceptable eating disorder.
However, are high protein, low carbs and vegan menus always the healthier option? This type of ‘clean’ eating is becoming increasingly popular in our Instagram, body image obsessed culture.
But, athletes and top performers can often struggle with Orthorexia, as it is expected ‘healthy’ eating and excessive exercise to be able to compete at optimum performance.
The New Eating Disorders Narrative
The idea that only young, white, affluent women, are the only ones who suffer with eating disorders is a myth. Eating disorders affect everyone, regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, culture, size, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation.
Misconceptions about who eating disorders affect have real consequences, leading to fewer diagnoses, treatment options, and pathways to help for those who don’t fit these stereotypes.
But signs and symptoms of eating disorders vary depending on the person, culture and eating disorder. Hence, will not necessarily occur in the same way or how we were expecting.
Often people suffering with eating disorders have other co-morbidities such as anxiety, depression or obsessive compulsive disorders, which impact the eating disorder
And physical or emotional symptoms maybe masked by ambitious, determined and self disciplined behaviours, that often accompany high achievers
Symptoms which may include, but are not exhaustive:
- Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams, and dieting
- Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g., no carbohydrates, etc.)
- Appears uncomfortable eating around other
- Skipping meals or taking small portions of food at regular meals
- Withdrawal from usual friends and activities
- Extreme concern with body size and shape
- Extreme mood swings
- Noticeable fluctuations in weight, both up and down
- Menstrual irregularities — missing periods
- Dizziness and difficulties concentrating
- Irregular or disrupted sleep
- Dry skin and hair, and brittle nails
The Cure For Eating Disorders?
Everyone should have a tailored treatment plan and the approach different depending on the person. In extreme cases hospitalisation, maybe necessary to support someone to recover, particularly if their body weight is dangerously low.
However, a plan should consist of psychological treatment (usually psychotherapy), nutritional education and medication, if suffering with an underlying issue such as anxiety or depression.
Despite long waits to access treatment, early intervention is key for eating disorders, and families play such a vital role in assisting their loved ones to get help and stay in recovery.
We have curated an Eating Disorders Awareness Summit to help raise awareness of eating disorders, including diverse and holistic perspectives to change the narrative on Eating Disorders.
Please register here to unlock the online summit and get access to expert speakers FREE.