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Controlled By Food—Cognizance for Eating Disorders

What is an eating disorder?

The public stigma surrounding mental health has marginalized and narrowed down opinions, leading to discrimination and bigotry. The recent surge in awareness has certainly helped to make people more tolerant and accepting of mental disorders. Yet, ignorance exists, which might impede one’s recovery by causing a delay in seeking professional help.

One such mental illness, prevalent and affecting at least 9% of the population worldwide, is the eating disorder.

Bar graph displaying the prevalence of various eating disorders. [Image credits –  Mirror Mirror]

An eating disorder (ED) is identified by abnormal and unhealthy eating habits which are detrimental to both the body and mind. The symptoms include eating too much or too little and constantly obsessing over the scale and one’s body shape.

Several factors come into play when identifying the true cause of an eating disorder, which includes and is not restricted to genetics, brain biology, personality, and society.

A person with a family history of eating disorders is more likely to develop one owing to it being hereditary in nature. Eating disorders are also common among people with personality traits like neuroticism, perfectionism and impulsivity.

In a world where the beauty of a person is defined by a female’s hourglass shape or a male’s rock-hard abs, it is not surprising to witness the staggering number of people suffering from body image issues.  This increases the need to conform to unrealistic societal standards, which is not helped by celebrities propagating and providing exposure to these unhealthy lifestyles. Adolescents and young women are especially triggered by these superficial ideologies, deteriorating their self-esteem and compelling them to undertake drastic measures like dieting in the form of starvation. This results in bingeing. The body is forcefully deprived and ends with guilt-consumed purging, effectively trapping the person in this vicious cycle and completely wearing out one’s mind.

Body dissatisfaction is a major reason for EDs in adolescents.[Image credits – Walden University]

Causes

Misinformation and fad diets propagated by famous influencers on various social media platforms are some of the biggest downfalls in body satisfaction. Young girls particularly are tricked into these unsustainable crash diets, which are projected into the internet without an ounce of research by influencers. No one questions the legitimacy of the information just because of the millions of likes and views the post has garnered. Although these diets may work for a short while, once you stop following them, they may exacerbate both the person’s physical and mental health.

It is crucial to realize that photos on the internet should not be perceived as reality. In the hopes of gaining approval and validation, eating disorders are easily triggered under the added pressure of attaining impractical beauty standards.

Types of Eating Disorder

The most common types of eating disorders are addressed below:

1. Anorexia Nervosa

The most common type of all eating disorders, anorexia nervosa, affects more females than males. This potentially lethal disorder is characterized by people perceiving themselves as overweight, although in reality, they are dangerously underweight. Anorexic individuals resort to extreme steps to control their body shape and size by excessively restricting their calories, purging the eaten food, using laxatives or exercising heavily.

Anorexia involves a severe limitation of food.[Image credits – Penn Today]

Anorexia is terribly debilitating and can cause brittle hair and nails, thinning bones and infertility as time passes.

2.Bulimia Nervosa

Patients diagnosed with bulimia lack control over the amount of food they consume, and often end up ingesting thousands of calories. They cease only when they fall asleep, are stopped by someone, or experience excruciating stomach ache. This comes from a place of dread of gaining weight, along with guilt and mortification, after a binge episode. The person tries to compensate for the extra calories eaten by forcefully vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics (water pills), fasting, and over-exercising.

Harmful side effects include worn tooth enamel and tooth decay, chronically inflamed throat, hormonal imbalance, severe dehydration and intestinal and kidney problems.

 3.Binge Eating Disorder

People with binge eating disorder consume abnormally large amounts of food, even though they might not be hungry during their binge episodes. They usually do this secretly to avoid embarrassment. Unlike anorexic or bulimic patients, people diagnosed with binge eating disorder do not attempt to turn to damaging methods such as purging and excessively exerting themselves to make up for the binge. Such individuals are generally overweight or obese, thus aggravating their risk of weight-related diseases and illness, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

4.Rumination Disorder

A person inflicted with this condition involuntarily regurgitates food they swallowed, which might then be rechewed and swallowed or spit out. This can result in weight loss, acute malnutrition, toothache, tooth decay or indigestion. Rumination disorder usually afflicts infants or people with intellectual disabilities.

5.Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

ARFID is a condition that generally starts developing during infancy or early childhood and can carry on into adulthood. Diagnosed people avoid eating due to lack of interest or dislike towards certain sensory characteristics such as smell, tastes, colours, textures, and temperatures. To replenish the body with the required nutrients, they are either tube fed or dependent on supplements to avoid deficiencies and overall poor development.

How to recognize if one is suffering from an eating disorder

People with eating disorders have a hard time accepting that their eating habits are not normal and hence continue living in denial and do not receive the treatment they essentially require. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just young, white females or skinny people who suffer from this psychiatric disorder. It does not see race, ethnicity, gender, age, or weight before beginning its torment.

If you suspect you or one of your loved ones has developed an eating disorder, be vigilant for the following red flags—

  • Hiding while eating to evade judgment
  • Skipping meals
  • Over-exercising
  • Experiencing feelings of guilt, revulsion, and embarrassment over-eating habits
  • Constantly thinking about food and calories.
  • Repeatedly observing yourself in the mirror for flaws
  • Callouses on knuckles from forced vomiting
  • Regular usage of laxatives and weight loss pills
  • Making frequent trips to the bathroom after a meal.

Skipping meals could be a sign of an eating disorder.[Image credits – WebMD]

How to help a loved one

Eating disorders are not to be taken lightly. It is imperative to understand that it is not a choice, nor can it be underestimated, considering that millions of people succumb to this life-threatening disorder.

Here are some tips to help you if you know someone that might be battling an eating disorder:-

  • Urge them to seek professional help as soon as possible. The longer it remains untreated, the more arduous the path to recovery will be.
  • Educate yourself about the disorder as much as you can. This will aid you in understanding even a fraction of what the other person is experiencing and coping with the challenges.
  • For better recovery, support them unconditionally and be patient with them.
  • Please do not comment on their physical appearance, blame or criticize them.
  • Be sensitive about what triggers them.
  • Try to empathize and communicate, even if it is just listening to them expressing themselves.

 Conclusion

Increased mental health awareness paves the road to a better-informed world and helps to disrupt the apathy surrounding it. Negative comments and thoughts worm easily into a person’s mind, giving rise to destructive behaviours and suicidal thoughts. Thus, it will persist in being one of the major reasons for the escalation in the number of people suffering from mental health diseases.

You are important. You do not deserve this illness. Beauty is not defined by your body shape but by your state of mind. Be kind to others, and most importantly,  to yourself. Your body does so much for you; do not treat it as anything less.

The path to conquering your disorder is tough, but the alternative is tougher.

Featured Image Credits: Huffington Post