Eating disorders are on the rise around the world. In the United States, they already affect around 30 million people. It’s easy to put the blame on an Instagram image obsessed society that’s all about the superficial, but the truth is not that simple. Eating disorders are the result of a myriad of complex and poorly understood causes. In this article, we present key information that everyone needs to know about eating disorders.
- What is an Eating Disorder?
- What Causes Eating Disorders?
- Is Anorexia Nervosa a Psychological Disorder?
- What is a Typical Eating Disorder Cycle?
- Are Eating Disorders Dangerous?
- What Should I Do About My Bulimia Nervosa?
- Can a Clinical Psychologist Help?
- How Can I Support Some With an Eating Disorder?
What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are conditions that involve an over concern with weight and shape and an obsessive effort to lose weight over a long period of time. This may show itself by not eating, as with anorexia, or with bingeing and indulging in inappropriate responses to food, such as vomiting or using laxatives, as with bulimia.
What Causes Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia have multiple causes. Sexual and mental abuse, parental conflict, pressure from sports coaches and the influence of society’s ideals of body shape have all been implicated. Once a person starts to link body image and eating with mood and self-esteem, a cycle of extreme dieting and/or self-loathing can result.
The person can come to see weight loss as the solution to their problems and feel that exerting strict control over their diet will help them control their emotional difficulties.
Is Anorexia Nervosa a Psychological Disorder?
Anorexia nervosa is partly a psychological disorder. Most people are aware that extreme psychological factors are involved in dieting disorders. However, emotional health problems and perceptions can also play their part. Anxiety, stress and depression can lead to loss of appetite and to food cravings and binge eating.
Eating disorders are often among the signs and symptoms of depression.
Studies carried out from 1989 to 1991 by Dr. Ulrike Schmidt of the Institute of Psychiatry in London have shown that there is a clear link between anxiety and stress and the development of anorexia and bulimia. Her studies also showed that major life events, such as death in the family or a divorce, precipitated the onset of eating disorders in 75 percent of cases.
What is a Typical Eating Disorder Cycle?
Although every case is unique, there is a general pattern that has been recognized when it comes to the development of an eating disorder. It follows five stages:
- Stress, depression, and low self esteem revolving around a morbid obsession with fatness.
- Severe dieting, overactivity, and obsession with exercise.
- Severe weight loss, fatigue, weakness, poor skin and hair, continued obsession with weight loss.
- Uncontrolled binge eating followed by induced vomiting.
- Severe psychological disorders – professional advice is needed.
Are Eating Disorders Dangerous?
Yes, all eating disorders are dangerous. However, sufferers are unlikely to help themselves and will more than likely deny that they have a problem. Most treatments emphasize both nutritional and psychological counselling.
When a person’s body weight percentage is more than 15 percent below normal, signs of malnutrition will appear. Normal hormonal balance will be disturbed, leading to thinning of hair, bone wasting, and in women, an absence of periods. A low dietary intake of protein, vitamins, and minerals can damage heart tissue, leading to irregular heartbeat and other cardiac disorders.
What Should I Do About My Bulimia Nervosa?
Between 2 and 4 percent of women are thought to have bulimia nervosa, and most of them keep it a secret. If you suffer from bulimia nervosa, the first step to recovery involves recognizing the link between your emotional health and your eating patterns. Many bulimia sufferers tend to isolate themselves, often worsening their emotional health. Take steps to be more social, especially when it involves getting out of the house and engaging with others in person. Set aside time to do the things you enjoy, such as going out with friends or making new ones with shared interests.
Exercise can also boost your mood and relieve stress. Learn to relax and do things for yourself. Take a bath, listen to music, or become involved in an interesting pastime to alleviate stress. Organize a meeting with a counsellor to discuss and help overcome underlying emotions.
Regulate eating habits by eating three balanced meals a day. Eat healthy snacks, such as fruit and bread, between meals to help control weight.
People with eating disorders often weigh themselves several times a day. However our weight fluctuates daily as a result of changes in fluid and muscle. Try to limit weighing yourself to once a week, at the same time. Resist the urge to weigh yourself daily. As your eating pattern normalizes, you are likely to find that your weight also stabilizes.
A proven way to increase both your motivation and optimism is to write two letters imagining that it is five years in the future. The letter could be to yourself, a friend (just don’t send it), or an imaginary person. In the first letter, write as if you still have the eating problem – write about how you feel, what life with the eating disorder has been like over the last five years – the effects on your self-esteem, your health and your relationships.
In the second letter, write as if you have recovered completely. Write about how you feel, acknowledge how difficult it may have been but also about the benefits that have occurred as a result of recovery, such as in your lifestyle and relationships. Make the two letters as detailed and personal as possible.
Can a Clinical Psychologist Help?
Yes, a clinical psychologist can help sufferers of eating disorders and are invaluable allies in the journey to recovery and better life. Many sufferers of eating disorders see a distorted image of their own body shape. A clinical psychologist can help them realize the truth about their body image, which can be a great help in treatment.
The aim of a clinical psychologist is to uncover how patients think about themselves, their problems and goals. Treatment is tailored to help them change the way they think in order to help them change their behavior. Cognitive behavior therapy is a standard form of treatment that focuses on thoughts (cognitions) and behavior.
If you are suffering from an eating disorder, the most important thing is to reach out for help from a support group.
How Can I Support Some With an Eating Disorder?
- Speak up rather than ignoring the issue.
- Be empathetic rather than judgmental.
- Don’t comment on their weight or appearance.
- Go with them to medical appointments.
- Avoid blame and, above all, be patient.