7 questions about eating disorders answered
Eating disorders affect millions. Having eating disorder awareness allows for understanding and compassion when someone you know suffers. It also allows you to know the common warning signs to know what to look out for in someone you think may have an eating disorder.
1. What are eating disorders?
Let’s get one thing straight. Eating disorders are NOT lifestyle choices. Rather eating disorders are a serious mental illness that deals with a person’s eating behaviors. Someone who suffers from an eating disorder often has other psychological disorders. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
Someone suffering from an eating disorder believes their self-worth is tied to their body image and when they look into the mirror the image they see they believe is too big. Their inner voice is real and has a lot of power over them with constant scolding and criticizing and become filled with fear and anxiety when they think of food and feel a loathing or a need to punish themselves if they eat. As such they will employ creative measure not to eat.
For them food really is the enemy. They experience strong responses to food and find themselves thinking about it all the time. They no longer see food for what it is—which is a means of staying healthy or alive.
2. How common are eating disorders?
Common. According to National Eating Disorders Association
- 20 million women and 10 million men in the US will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life.
- 40 to 60% of elementary age girls (ages 6-12) in the US are concerned about their weight and becoming too fat.
- The number of cases of eating disorders in the US has increased in each decade since 1930.
- The majority of people with eating disorders in the US do not receive adequate care.
3. Do boys get eating disorders?
Yes. While more woman than men suffer from the disorder it doesn’t mean that men don’t also suffer. While many woman get help dealing with their illness, many men don’t because of the stigma they feel about seeking help for a woman’s disorder.
In the first national study on eating disorders conducted by Harvard University in 2006, found 25 percent of all anorexics and 40 percent of bulimics were boys or men.
How body image is perceived is different between males and females. For females it’s about being skinny. For males it’s about athletic performance. Athletes who have to undergo weigh-ins are at increased risk for eating disorders.
4. Who is at risk for an eating disorder?
Almost everyone regardless of race or gender. There are groups that are at higher risk for developing this disorder; these include actors, singers, dancers, and sports where body image is important, such as wrestling, boxing, figure skating, and gymnastics.
Historically, eating disorder have been more prevalent in western cultures when food is plentiful and thinness is valued. In recent years as western notions of beauty are increasingly adopted worldwide, there has been an increase of eating disorders in countries where it hasn’t been seen previously.
5. How are eating disorders diagnosed?
Eating disorders can go undiagnosed for long periods of time due to feelings of secrecy, shame, and denial which make to challenging to diagnosis. If symptoms are present, a doctor will start by doing a complete physical exam and get a medical history. There are no tests to diagnosis eating disorders, but a doctor may run test to rule out illness that may have symptoms that mimic an eating disorder. Most likely treatment will involve a combination of psychiatrists, psychologist, doctors, and other health care professionals who specialize in eating disorders.
Goals of any treatment course include returning to a healthy weight, treating emotional issues, correct distorted thinking patterns, and implementing long-term behavioral changes. In extreme cases hospitalization may be required.
6. What is the difference between Anorexia and bulimia?
While there are many different types of eating disorders, Anorexia and Bulimia are the most common.
The term anorexia literally means “loss of appetite.” Yet, this is a misleading definition as those with anorexia nervosa are often hungry but refuse food anyway. They have an all consuming fear of becoming fat and see themselves as fat, despite being already thin or alarmingly underweight.
Your teen or daughter may try to fix their perceived “flaws” by limiting their food intake and exercising beyond what is healthy or normal. Those with anorexia nervosa tend to be high achievers, performing well in school, work, and sports.
The word bulimia comes from the Greek word bous, which means “ox,” and the Greek word limos, which means “hunger” and refers to someone who has an appetite as big as an ox. With bulimia the suffer binges abnormally large amouts of food within a very short time than purges by vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, fasting, or exercising compulsively.
When someone binges they feel out of control and feel that they cannot stop or control themselves and must eat until all the food is gone, ignoring any feelings of fulness or discomfort. . It’s not uncommon for them to eat up to twenty-five times the recommend daily calorie intake and they almost always binge on junk or fast food.
Worldwide, there are more cases of bulimia than anorexia. The things that trigger bulimia are the similar to the things that trigger anorexia—changes in friends or family relationships, major disappointment, or a traumatic event. Bulimia can be difficult to diagnose as many bulimics are not overweight or underweight and they go to great lengths to hide their eating and purging habits. These lengths may include eating or purging when no one is home, eating or exercising in the middle of the night, or figuring ways to binge or purge in private.
7. What are common symptoms of eating disorders?
Someone who is suffering from an eating disorder are very adept at hiding their symptoms. Symptoms between anorexia and bulimia vary.
Symptoms of anorexia
- Rapid weight loss, especially over a short period of time
- Continue to limit eating or dieting even when they’re thin or underweight
- Having an unusual interest in food, calories, nutrition, or cooking
- Intese fear of gain weight or getting fat
- Strange eating habits or wanting to eat in secret
- Inability to realistically asses one’s own body weight and image
- Striving for perfection in their body, very critical of how they look
- Undue influence of body weight or shape on self-esteem
- Depression, anxiety, or irritability
- Infrequent, irregular, or missed menstrual period
- Laxative, diruretic, or diet pill use
- Frequent illness
- Wearing lose clothing
- Compulsive exercising
- Feeling worthless or hopeless
- Social withdrawal
- Physical symptoms that develop over time: low tolerance of cold weather, brittle hair and nails, dry or yellowing skin, anemia, constipation, swollen joints, tooth decay, and new growth of thin hair over the body
Symptoms of bulimia
- Loss of menstrual period
- Dieting obsessively when not overweight
- Claiming to feel “fat” when they are not overweight
- Avoiding a widening range of foods
- Avoiding food until certain hours
- Anger at others if pressed to eat something
- Fear of overeacting of gaining weight
- Preoccupation with food, calories, nutrition, and cooking
- Not being available for family meals
- Denial of hunger
- Excessive exercising; being overly active
- Frequent weighing
- Secretive or ritualistic eating
- Food, especially junk food, disappearing quickly from the house
- Fifteen percent or more below normal weight or rapid weight loss
- Slowness of thought; memory difficulties
- Hair loss
- Social withdrawal
- Hidden stashes of food
For more information on eating disorders visit National Eating Disorder Association.