Most of us have heard about eating disorders, either through television, movies, or perhaps because we know someone, directly or indirectly, who suffers from them.
You may also know that having an eating disorder is a very serious thing. It is not and should not be a fashion, a trend, and much less, a way to control or lose weight.
Eating disorders, caused by body image concerns, affect millions of people around the world. They can affect people of any age, sex, culture, or socioeconomic status, or body type and are a major public health problem in the United States.
Negative body image can be caused by a variety of factors, including social pressure to conform to certain beauty standards, past experiences of bullying or teasing about personal appearance, or a history of trauma or abuse.
What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that involve unhealthy eating behaviors and a distorted perception of body shape or weight. Body image, on the other hand, refers to the perception, thoughts, and feelings that a person has about their own body.
People with eating disorders often have a negative body image, which can lead to obsessive thoughts and behaviors related to food and exercise. They may feel like they are never skinny enough and may engage in extreme dieting, fasting, or purging behaviors to try to lose weight.
Types of eating disorders
There are different types of eating disorders, all serious problems for those who suffer from them, and not one is more or less serious than the other. The different types of eating disorders include:
- Anorexia nervosa. People with anorexia nervosa often see themselves as overweight and with an unattractive body shape, despite being dangerously underweight. These people may avoid certain foods or food groups and weigh themselves frequently to monitor their weight. They may also have rituals around food, such as cutting food into small pieces or chewing food and then spitting it out. Anorexia nervosa can cause a number of serious health problems, including malnutrition, heart problems, fertility problems, and bone problems.
- Bulimia nervosa. In bulimia nervosa the person has recurrent episodes of binge eating, often followed by self-induced vomiting, laxative or diuretic abuse, or excessive exercise, all in order to get rid of the food consumed during the binge to avoid gaining weight. People with bulimia nervosa worry excessively about their weight and body shape. Binge eating episodes in bulimia nervosa are characterized by eating large amounts of food in a short period of time and a feeling of lack of control over overeating. After binge eating, the person feels guilty and ashamed and therefore uses compensatory methods to eliminate the calories consumed. Bulimia nervosa can also cause a number of serious health problems, including electrolyte imbalances, dental problems, digestive problems, and heart problems.
- Binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder refers to an eating disorder in which the person has recurrent episodes of binge eating (large amounts in a short period of time) but does not perform compensatory methods as in bulimia nervosa. People with binge eating disorder may feel embarrassed and disgusted by their binges and may be overweight or obese. Binge eating disorder can cause a number of serious health problems, including weight problems, heart disease, diabetes, and digestive problems.
- Unspecified eating disorder. Eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) is a term used to describe abnormal eating patterns that do not meet the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder. It is also called an “atypical eating disorder.” EDNOS can include a variety of eating behaviors, such as night eating, picky eating, rumination, and irregular eating patterns. People with EDNOS experience problems with weight, body image, and self-esteem similar to people with other eating disorders. Although EDNOS does not meet the diagnostic criteria for specific eating disorders, it can still be a significant health problem and may require treatment.
Often, in eating disorder treatments, different health professionals must be involved as a multidisciplinary team. Treatments may include psychological therapy, nutritional therapy, general health monitoring, medications, and in more serious cases, hospitalization.
Eating disorders often coexist with other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, social withdrawal, difficulty regulating emotions, and disorders associated with substance use. Because of this comorbidity, it is important to seek treatment for underlying causes of eating disorders and not just focus on nutritional education.
If you or a loved one are experiencing difficulties with their eating habits and body image, reach out for support to a mental health professional as soon as possible. At AMR Therapy and Support Services we have therapists and counselors that specialize in these treatments. Schedule an appointment to explore your options for support today.
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