What are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are on the rise in the world. Whether this can be blamed on social media, celebrities, or simply because they are more often recognized than in generations prior is uncertain. Clinically, eating disorders are illnesses in which people experience severe disturbances in their eating, related thoughts and emotions. People with eating disorders typically become pre-occupied with body weight and food. Generally speaking, there are six types of eating disorders. These include the following and will be explained below.
- Anorexia Nervosa
- Bulimia Nervosa
- Binge Eating Disorder
- Rumination Disorder
- Avoidant or Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
While some people see eating disorders as fads or choices, they are actually a form of mental illness. They can have life threatening consequences as well as physical, social, and psychological effects. AN eating disorder generally stems from an obsession with food, body weight, or shape. Though eating disorders can affect anyone, they are more common in adolescent and young women. There is some research to support that eating disorders are hereditary, though personality traits are also a factor.
Anorexia nervosa, most commonly called anorexia, is possibly the best-known eating disorder. It tends to begin in adolescence and affect more women than men. People with anorexia tend to view themselves as overweight, even if they are underweight. These individuals often monitor their weight continuously and avoid eating certain food types or severely restrict caloric intake. This may not always be noticed at first, but there are common signs that point to anorexia. These include:
- Being considerably underweight when compared to people of the same age and height
- Restrictive eating patterns
- A fear that is intense around gaining weight
- Persistent behaviors to avoid weight gain
- A distorted body image (thinking they are overweight when severely under)
- A relentless pursuit of thinness, even when unhealthy
- Body weight heavily affecting self-esteem
These individuals often also have obsessive compulsive symptoms with thoughts around food. They may have extreme difficulty eating in public with a related desire to control their environment. There are two subtypes of anorexia, the restrictive type and the binge and purge type. The restrictive type anorexic loses weight through dieting, fasting, and excessive exercise. The binge and purge type tends to eat, though it may be small or large quantities, and then purge the food intake through throwing up, taking laxatives, or excessive exercise. Either is dangerous for the body and sufferers may have infertility, thinning of the bones, and a fine layer of hair all over the body.
Bulimia nervosa, most commonly called bulimia, is also relatively well known. It also tends to begin in adolescence and is more common in women. Those with bulimia eat unusually large amounts of food in a short time period. With each binge eating episode the person eats until painfully full and may feel out of control. While binges can occur with any food, it is normally with food that the person would otherwise avoid. After binging, the person tries to compensate and relieve discomfort by purging. Though similar to the binge and purge type of anorexia, bulimics tend to maintain a relatively normal weight. Common symptoms include:
- Recurrent binge eating
- Recurrent purging to prevent weight gain
- Self-esteem influenced by body shape and/or weight
- A fear of gaining weight
Bulimia can create some unpleasant side effects like an inflamed sore throat, worn tooth enamel from purging, swollen salivary glands, tooth decay, irritation of the gut, severe dehydration, and even hormonal disturbances. In extreme cases, an imbalance of body electrolytes can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder was just recently recognized. However, it is the most common eating disorder in the US. Individuals with this disorder typically eat large amounts of food in short periods of time and display or feel a lack of control during the binges. People who have binge eating disorder are often overweight or obese and have increased risk of medical complications, as well as heart disease, diabetes type 2, and stroke. The signs of binge eating disorder include:
- Feeling a lack of control when binge eating
- No purging or calorie restriction to compensate for binging
- Feeling distress, shame, guilt, and even disgust during binge eating
- Eating large amounts of food rapidly and in secret despite not being hungry
This disorder is just as dangerous as anorexia and bulimia, but for different reasons.
Pica is newly recognized as an eating disorder as well. Those with pica crave non-food substances such as dirt, soil, ice, soap, hair, cloth, etc. Pica can occur in adults, adolescents, and children, though it is most often seen in pregnant women, those with mental disabilities, and children. Those with pica are at risk for infection, poisoning, nutritional deficiencies, and even gut injuries from eating non-food substances.
Rumination disorder is also newly recognized. This disorder is not as common, but involves someone regurgitating food they have previously chewed and swallowed and then re-chewing and swallowing it or spitting it out. This is typically within 30 minutes of eating a meal and is voluntary. Though it can appear at any age, it is most common in infants between the ages of 3 and 12 months. For this age group it tends to go away on its own, but for older children and adults, therapy is often required. This disorder can result in weight loss and malnutrition that causes the person to become underweight.
Avoidant or Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
Avoidant or Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) was once known as feeding disorder of infancy and early childhood and reserved for children under seven. Though it tends to start during childhood, it can persist into adulthood and is equally present in men and women. Those with ARFID are not interested in eating or have a distaste for certain tastes, colors, smells, temperatures, or even textures. There are a few common symptoms that are easily recognized. These include:
- Weight loss or poor development based on age and height
- Avoidance of food or limited intake
- Eating habits that interfere with normal social functions
- Nutrient deficiencies or dependence on supplements
This goes beyond being a picky eater.
If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder then seek help. While medical intervention may be necessary, an in-patient rehab is also helpful. The River is an in-patient facility in Southeast Asia and is one of the best. The program that is utilized has been perfected through 80 years of use and directly addresses the problems of the addict. Ultimately, The River combines typical mind therapies with holistic wellness and creative recovery methods (mind, body, spirit) to empower recovery. If you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder, give The River a chance to help you change your life for the better.