Overview

What are they?

An eating disorder is technically defined as “any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits”. These include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder among others. Eating disorders are the deadliest of mental health issues. They take a toll on both a person’s mental and physical well-being.

Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by restricted food intake, intense fear of gaining weight, and disturbances in the way one views their body. Body weight may or not be below the “normal” BMI threshold.

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by (1) recurrent episodes of binge eating which are defined as eating, in a distinct period of time an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time under similar circumstances. This is accompanied by a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode. And (2) inappropriate compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting; misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or other medications, fasting; or excessive exercise.

Binge Eating Disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating which are defined as eating, in a distinct period of time an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time under similar circumstances. This is accompanied by a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode and significant distress caused by the binge. No inappropriate compensatory behaviors are observed.

 

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Who can be affected?

Anyone can be affected. Eating disorders do not discriminate based on age, gender, race, sexual orientation, or lifestyle.

 

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What are their causes?

There is not one known cause for eating disorders. Several risk factors have been shown to correlate with the incidence and severity of these psychological disorders. These include (but are not limited to):

·        Abuse

·        Trauma

·        Family history of depression, eating disorders, alcoholism etc

·        Societal pressures (the thin-ideal, media …)

·        Dieting

·        Perfectionism

·        Impulsivity

·        Low self-esteem

·        Depression and anxiety …

What is the treatment?

Eating disorders visibly demonstrate the very close association between mental and physical health. The first step in treating anorexia nervosa is to assist patients with regaining weight to a healthy level; for patients with bulimia nervosa interrupting the binge-purge cycle is key. While for patients with binge eating disorder, it is important to help them interrupt and stop binges.

This is done within the context of a multidisciplinary team preferably including all of the following: dietitian, psychologist, psychiatrist, physician, and specialized nurse. In the outpatient setting, it is very important for the individual to work alongside a dietitian and a psychologist who are both knowledgeable in the field of eating disorders.

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What are the warning signs?

Anorexia Nervosa:

·        Obsessed with food and weight control

·        New “food rules”

·        Will read recipes, watch cooking shows, prepare food, but won’t eat

·        Excessive exercise

·        Social withdrawal

·        Look of emaciation

·        Low energy, tiredness, dizziness, headaches …

Bulimia Nervosa:

·        Food disappearing from the house

·        Secretive eating

·        Going to the bathroom right after eating

·        Mess in the bathroom

·        Russel’s sign (marks on back of hand from self-induced vomiting)

·        Disappearance of laxatives or diuretics from the house

·        Gastrointestinal issues

·        Eroded teeth from excessive vomiting

·        Parotid enlargement (chipmunk cheeks)

·        Electrolyte imbalances …

Binge Eating Disorder:

·        Food disappearing from the house

·        Secretive eating

·        Possible weight gain

·        Mood changes …

What to do if you suspect that a loved one has an eating disorder?

Even if you have only a slight suspicion, it’s important to have a discussion to intervene early and help the person seek treatment.

First of all, try not to be confrontational. Choose a safe and comfortable environment that will make the person feel at ease.

 

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Try to use “I” so you avoid blaming the person. “I am worried about you” vs “you’re worrying me”

Avoid discussing the topic of food. Although eating disorders manifest themselves in food, they are not about food.

Let the person talk. This might be the first time they’ve had the chance to discuss their eating disorder and their feelings and worries about it. Try not to interrupt or dominate the conversation.

It’s always hard to have difficult conversations but reading more about it can help. For more info visit https://www.helpguide.org/articles/eating-disorders/helping-someone-with-an-eating-disorder.htm

Finally, seek help and support! You are not alone.

 

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