Eating disorders have become increasingly common in recent years. While the exact causes of eating disorders are very personal and often not even completely understood, eating disorders can affect people in several ways, including mental and physical health.
Types of Eating Disorders
There are four basic categories of eating disorders. Each of these categories has specific symptoms, however, eating disorders may present differently in individuals that may be diagnosed with the same eating disorder.
Anorexia is perhaps the most well-known type of eating disorder. As such, anorexia is often misunderstood and used as a term to describe any type of eating disorder. Here are the key aspects of anorexia:
· Intentionally eating very little food
· Fear of weight gain
· An unrealistic body image, or distorted expectations of the ideal body.
Bulimia is thought to be more common than any statistics may show due to the rapid rise in obesity rates and obesity-related medical conditions. The primary indicator of bulimia is a tendency to overeat, often uncontrollably. Some people with bulimia will use purging techniques to “balance” their overeating, however, not everyone with bulimia will purge. Individuals with bulimia oven have the following symptoms:
· Out of control overeating, referred to as binge eating
· Engaging in activities to compensate for overeating, such as excessive exercising or using diet pills and laxatives.
· Obsession with body shape and weight.
Binge Eating – Sometimes with Purging
Binge eating can be an eating disorder alone without being classified as bulimia. The main difference is that individuals with binge eating disorder do not often have a preoccupation with activities and behavior to compensate for their overeating, as with bulimia.
· Individuals with binge eating disorder may:
· Eat uncontrollably, without the ability to stop, even when they know they should.
· Eat when not hungry.
· Feel guilty or ashamed for overeating.
· Hiding food and eating in secret.
· Extreme weight gain.
Avoidant or Restrictive Food Intake (ARFID)
Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder is a lesser-known eating disorder. Unlike other eating disorders, ARFID is characterized by negative reactions to foods, usually all types of foods. Individuals with ARFID will likely just avoid situations that involve food. They will also not have issues with body image or fears of weight gain. Weight loss, often drastic is the main sign of ARFID.
Medical Issues Associated with Eating Disorders
Maintaining a healthy diet is important for body systems to work properly. Eating disorders can very quickly have a drastic effect on the body, some of these issues can cause severe, even life-threatening issues. Eating disorders, if left untreated, can even lead to death.
Malnutrition, often found in anorexia, can lead to heart issues, such as low blood pressure, feeling of weakness and even delay development stages such as puberty. Brittle bone is a classic symptom seen in individuals with long-term anorexia.
Eating disorders that involve overeating, such as bulimia or binge eating disorders lead to medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol. Excess weight can also lead to issues such as sleep apnea.
Mental Health Issues Common with Eating Disorders
Eating disorders rarely exist without other types of mental health issues. Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common. However, eating disorders are often seen with individuals that fight other disorders as well. These include thoughts of suicide and substance use disorder. Anger management and decreased social skills are often found with eating disorders as well.
Individuals with ARFID are often found to suffer from disorders such as OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder). ARFID individuals will often face many of the same types of medical issues associated with anorexia due to severe malnutrition.
Now What? What to do if You May Have an Eating Disorder
Eating disorders are severe issues that should not be ignored. Individuals with eating disorders can suffer from the above mentioned mental and medical complications in a very short time. Therefore, if you, or someone you care about, believe you may have an eating disorder, reach out now.
Finding the right help is the most important step in overcoming eating disorders and the various issues that arise as a result of complications. Here are the most important things to remember when dealing with an eating disorder:
· There is no magic fix. Recovery takes time and conscious effort, often for the rest of your life.
· You are not alone. Eating disorders affect hundreds of thousands of people every day.
· Be consistent. Make your treatment and recovery a priority, make and keep all of your appointments and get help when you need it to keep on track.
· Patience is KEY! Dealing with an eating disorder, whether your own or someone you love, is complicated and will require a great deal of patience.
Dealing with an eating disorder does not mean that your life is over or that you are broken and cannot be fixed. While the exact cause of an eating disorder may be very different from one person to another, treatment has come a long way. There is now more understood about treating eating disorders than ever before and treatment can be successful.