Do you find yourself skipping meals to try to look more like celebrities you see on TV? Do you struggle to control your eating, or eat until you’re sick? If so, you may, unfortunately, have an eating disorder. However, there is hope and you are not alone.
Many people have experienced or know someone who has experienced an eating disorder. They can be incredibly dangerous for both the sufferer’s mental and physical health. If you’re worried you may have an eating disorder – or see someone showing the signs of developing one – this article may help you to better understand the situation, and how to improve it.
What is an Eating Disorder?
An eating disorder is classified as an illness involving unusual eating habits, such as undereating or overeating. They can often arise as a result of a mental health issue, such as body dysmorphic disorder that causes the sufferer to resort to extreme measures to match their ideal body image to what they see in the mirror. It can also be due to stress, depression, and other mental health issues which lead the person to overeat, and then possibly vomit afterward to avoid gaining weight.
Eating disorders affect both men and women, particularly teenagers and young adults who are often still getting used to their bodies. Younger teens are also incredibly impressionable, making it easy for them to convince themselves they need to look like a model or inspiration of theirs. They are also prone to developing confidence and emotional problems, leading to anxiety, depression, and other factors that change their eating habits.
Types of Eating Disorders
There are a variety of different eating disorders, and someone who suffers from one may also experience the other. What all these behaviors have in common are dangers associated with the disorders, spanning from muscle weakness to heart failure. Below you will find the three most common eating disorders, as well as their symptoms and dangers associated with them.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that revolves around the inability to maintain a healthy body weight. Sufferers will often experience severe weight loss as a result of a lack of eating. This lack of eating is often spurred on by body dysmorphia issues, where the person doesn’t like what they see in themselves. They will then do whatever is necessary to achieve their “ideal” (and often thinner) look.
What to watch for
- Excessively thin build or far underweight
- Skipping meals
- Constantly dieting or monitoring the foods they eat
- Complaining about their looks
- Believing they are overweight when healthy or thin
- Afraid to eat in public
- Lack of energy
- Constantly cold
- Dizziness or fainting problems
- Sleep problems
- Compromised immune system
- Muscle weakness
- Heart failure from a lack of nutrients due to diet
- Electrolyte imbalances leading to death
- Kidney problems
Bulimia nervosa is characterized as binge-eating – or eating far too much in far too little time – and then compensating for the food you consume. This can be through diuretics, self-induced vomiting, or fasting. It shares similarities with anorexia nervosa; however, in this case, the sufferer eats the food but doesn’t allow themselves to safely digest and absorb the benefits of the food before vacating it. If they do, they may instead go days without eating, use medications to rid themselves of the food, and then start the cycle all over again. This is why bulimia is often referred to as cyclic.
What to watch for
- Rapid loss of weight
- Thin despite eating excessively
- Hiding eating
- Frequent bathroom visits after eating
- Skipping meals or overeating
- Excessive water consumption
- Extreme concern over body image
- Evidence of self-harm
- Weight Fluctuation
- Dizziness or fainting
- Tooth and mouth problems stemming from vomiting
- Cold from a lack of body fat
- Muscle weakness
- Damage to the esophagus due to vomiting
- Digestive system disruption
- Heart failure
- Death due to a lack of necessary vitamins and minerals
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge Eating Disorder involves the sufferer of eating excessively without compensating as bulimia sufferers do. They will often eat quickly and to the point of discomfort as a form of self-harm, or through a lack of self-control that causes them to feel guilty afterward. This is why binge eaters can often turn to bulimia if their disorder develops further.
What to watch for
- Excessive eating in private
- Trouble eating in front of others
- Highly concerned with their weight
- Depression or anxiety issues
- Food rituals
- Excessive weight fluctuation
- Excessively overweight
- Gastrointestinal trouble from overeating
- Hypertension and other diseases related to obesity
- Heart disease
- Morbid obesity leading to additional health problems
- Development of further mental health issues
As with many mental health problems and disorders, there is no easy fix or way to the source where the disorder stems from. While eating disorders often come as a result of anxiety, depression, or other disorders like body dysmorphia, genetic factors and social stigma about weight come into play as well.
Anorexia and bulimia are believed to be heavily influenced by society’s portrayal of celebrities and people who are unhealthy. These people are objects of attention, and everyone wants to look like their favorite model or actor. Unfortunately, these models are often portrayed as much different than they actually are. Impressionable young adults then do everything they can to emulate their idols, leading to unhealthy lifestyles. Body dysmorphia disorder also leads them to see themselves as heavier or skinnier than they are regardless of what the mirror or others show.
Eating disorders are often the result of a mental or emotional disorder. As a result, treatment primarily involves addressing the concerns that the patient has. Therapy can help to realign the sufferer’s thinking when it comes to food and weight. Antidepressants and other medications that treat depression or anxiety can also be used to help prevent the urges that cause the episodes.
Now that you’re familiar with some of the common signs of an eating disorder, you can evaluate whether yourself or someone you know may be suffering. If some of these symptoms and signs match you or them, be sure to seek help immediately to avoid causing damage to your body. You are not alone.