Eating disorders have multiplied in recent times due to our preoccupation with fashion and body image.
Today, doctors are finding that upwards of 10 per cent of the female population and a significant number of the male population suffer from some type of eating disorder or body dysmorphia disorder.
What is classified as an eating disorder?
An eating disorder is an illness that significantly upsets a person’s normal eating habits and activity levels, ultimately affecting their body’s health and their interaction with others. Sometimes these eating disorders cause people to eat very little or nothing because they constantly fear being overweight, while at other times they can cause the person to overeat due to lack of control or because they have a desire to gain weight. All of these conditions are connected to a person’s self-esteem and are often linked with other mental illnesses like depression or anxiety.
Anorexia nervosa is a condition, whereby a person denies themselves food in order to lose weight, usually until the point of emaciation. Most anorexics have intense body image issues that make them think they are extremely overweight when often they are actually underweight. Anorexics tend to weigh themselves often and painstakingly portion out any food they consume. Women usually lose the ability to menstruate when suffering from anorexia and, along with men, may suffer from social seclusion because of their fears of having to eat in social situations.
Some specific types of anorexic disorders include anorexia athletica, which is when a person undertakes extreme exercise, even when sick or injured, to maintain a low body weight, and Orthorexia, when someone spends a great deal of their time (at least 3 hours a day) and energy on eating healthfully and obsessing about food. Beyond being severely underweight, some signs that someone is suffering from anorexia are: brittle hair and nails, dry and yellowish skin, mild anaemia, severe constipation, lethargy, and infertility.
Bulimia nervosa causes a person to periodically eat large amounts of food, often after short periods of extreme dieting, followed by a purge of the excess calories by vomiting, excessive use of laxatives, fasting, or extreme exercise. Those suffering from bulimia are not as easy to spot as those with anorexia because they tend to be of normal or slightly higher than normal body weight and try to intensely hide their behaviours from those around them for fear and shame of both their activities and their body image.
Other symptoms of bulimia include chronic sore throat, swollen salivary glands in the neck, acid reflux disorder, severe dehydration, and worn teeth enamel. Some suffer from Diabulimia, a condition characterised by diabetics taking less insulin than they need to purposefully keep their body weight low despite high consumption.
Binge-eating like bulimia, occurs when a person periodically eats large amounts of food when suffering from emotional swings like those caused by dieting cycles or emotional outbursts that may or may not be centred around the person’s body image. Unlike bulimics, binge-eaters do not purge the food after consumption and often suffer from being overweight and have higher chances of contracting heart disease and high blood pressure.
Are you afraid you or a loved one may be suffering from an eating disorder?
If you think you or someone you care about maybe struggling with an eating disorder, the first step is to discuss the situation with the person and maybe another loved one to make sure the situation is clear and help would be welcomed. If it seems to be a serious and/or chronic problem, a doctor should be contacted to help in the healing process and make sure no permanent damage has been done. For less severe cases, making sure the person begins working to better their self-image and starts enjoying cooking and eating healthy food.
A little trick that can help ease the person into the process is making sure they consume lots of juice and vitamins. This should help them receive the vitamins and minerals they need to begin getting their health back, but does not require them to immediately consume out of the ordinary amounts or types of food. A good juicer can serve you 3 apples and 2 carrots in a glass. For more information, take a look at The National Institute of Mental Health.
Eating disorders can be scary, because they are linked to our psyche. Understanding the problem and finding a healthy healing plan is within everybody’s reach. However, it should work in tandem with helping everyone feel more comfortable in their own bodies.