What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are the leading cause of death in mental illnesses. Eating disorders are a serious medical illness characterized by severe disturbances in the way a person eats or compensates for eating. Obsession with food, body weight, exercising, or rituals around food may be a sign of an eating disorder. They can impact a person’s physical and psychological health in extreme ways. Fortunately, eating disorders can be treated and full recovery is possible. They are not a lifestyle choice, or a phase, they are a serious biologically-influenced medical and psychological illness.
Who is at risk with Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders don’t discriminate. Any age, gender, SES, or racial background can have an eating disorder. In fact, most people with an eating disorder are not underweight. Despite not being underweight, there can be many severe physical and psychological consequences to a person’s eating disorder. There is no such thing as needing to be “thin enough” or “sick enough” to have an eating disorder. Healthy looking people can have extremely severe eating disorders. Earlier intervention can improve and decrease treatment time and expenses.
Types of eating disorders:
People with Anorexia Nervosa avoid and restrict food, extreme diet, or only eat small portions of certain foods. They may weigh themselves and mirror/body check frequently. They may or may not feel like they need to lose weight or have an extreme fear of gaining weight. One subtype (binge-purge type) also may have infrequent episodes of binging and purging (vomiting, using laxatives/pills) in addition to their severe restriction of food.
People with bulimia nervosa have multiple episodes (at least once a week) of eating large amounts of food (binging) and then using compensation behaviors after the binge. Compensation behaviors can include: vomiting, excessive exercising, excessive restriction of food intake, manipulating pills or insulin, using laxatives, or diuretics.
Binge Eating Disorder:
Unlike Bulimia, people who struggle with binge eating disorder eat large amounts of food (more than the average person for a similar situation) and do not purge or fast afterwards. Binge eating disorder is not a “willpower” or “laziness” issue and is not treatable by “going on a diet”. Binge eating disorder is the most common but least treated/recognized eating disorder. If you struggle with a pattern of consistently over-eating, please see a specialist to be screened for BED.
ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder):
People with ARFID are characterized by having rigid rules around food that impact their eating (socially and/or physically) and are not attributable to a person trying to manipulate or being dissatisfied with their weight or appearance. Examples include only eating certain food colors, textures, only drinking liquids for nutrient intake, or only having a select amount of food one eats based on fears and anxieties with other foods. Many people are young when they first exhibit these behaviors, however, ARFID could exhibit later on, especially as a result of a trauma, surgery, or illness.
OSFED (Other specified feeding and eating disorder):
This category covers those who don’t match the criteria for other Eating Disorders but have a relationship with food that causes dysfunction and impairment in their physical and emotional wellbeing.
What are the warning signs & Symptoms?
- Obsession or preoccupation with food, weight, calories, dieting and/or body image.
- Changes in behaviors and attitudes around meal time.
- Feelings of isolation, depression, anxiety, or irritability.
- Withdrawal from friends and activities.
- Development of secretive, abnormal, and/or extreme food rituals, routines, or eating behaviors.
- Evidence of purging behaviors including: vomiting, excessive exercise, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or other “weight loss” pills.
- Stained teeth, brittle nails, lanugo (development of white hair), dry skin, hair loss, or marked changes in weight (in either direction or fluctuating).
What can I do about an Eating Disorder?
If you or a loved one may be struggling with an eating disorder, contact a specialist like Jenny Helms to learn more about resources and support in your area. Finding help isn’t always an easy step, but it’s an important one. Eating disorders are a complex psychological and medical illness that typically involves a treatment team to target all the various facets involved (a specialized therapist, dietitian, and doctor). This team can help you recover and live life on your own terms, not your eating disorder’s.
If you or a loved one is struggling with any of these issues, please contact us today to get a compassionate and thorough intake so we can connect you with the best services possible. Hope is just a phone call away! (316) 201-6047 or contact us here.