It begins with the feeling of unacceptance and rejection, the generation we are in has an image-conscious culture which pushes us to improve our physical appearance. Ever noticed how people, especially women strive hard to lose weight? Our culture has embedded the notion that if you are thin, you will be happy, admired, and loved. Eating disorder is a group of conditions manifested by a harmful relationship with food diet. It is considered potentially life-threatening illnesses associated with psychological and physical issues.
Eating disorders tend to develop during the teenage and young adult years, it is much more common in girls and women. This is a fact supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, three percent of teenagers and four percent of adults in the populace are affected by eating disorders. Those people who suffer from eating disorders are rarely recognized because the people are not familiar with the warning signs and symptoms of eating disorders.
The longer the disorder is not recognized, the more difficult it is to be treated, the higher rate of relapse and the worse consequences of mental and physical aspect occurs. There are warning signs of eating disorders(1) that if recognized early, it could make a huge difference. The presence of one or more of these warning signs of eating disorders does not necessarily mean that an eating disorder is impending. There are some people who are preoccupied with food and makes it a way to gain control over one aspect of their lives.
The three most common types of eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. Those who suffer from anorexia nervosa typically have an obsessive fear of gaining weight. They fiercely limit the quantity of food they consume and view themselves as overweight, even when they are underweight. Bulimia nervosa is manifested by people who repeatedly binge eat followed by behaviors that compensate for overeating.
The binge-eating and purging cycle is typically done in secret, creating feelings of shame, guilt, and lack of control. People who suffer from binge eating disorder frequently lose control over his or her eating, episodes of binge-eating are not followed by compensatory behaviors but may also experience intense feelings of guilt, distress, and embarrassment related to their binge-eating.
Although these conditions are treatable, the symptoms and consequences of an eating disorder can be life-threatening such as brain damage, multi-organ failure, bone loss, heart difficulties, gastrointestinal problems, severe hydration, and infertility. With these possible complications, a comprehensive and professional treatment is needed to establish healing and recovery.
Understanding the Warning Signs and Symptoms
People who suffer from eating disorders view their selves as “fat and ugly” because of their body size and shape. These people identify and define their selves according to their perception of “fat”. People with eating disorders tend to conclude that they are unacceptable and undesirable. Beyond that self-judgment, eating disorder is not a lifestyle choice or a cry for attention. Body dissatisfaction is developed as the person has negative thoughts and feelings about his or her own body.
An Eating disorder is a complex mental illness with medical complications, but no one knows the precise cause of eating disorders, but they seem to coexist with psychological, biological, environmental, and medical issues. An example of biological factors is nutritional deficiencies, genetics, and irregular hormone functions. Negative body image and poor self-esteem is under psychological factors. Meanwhile, dysfunctional family dynamics, family and childhood traumas, cultural or peer pressure can be contributory environmental factors.
An eating disorder is characterized by a range of abnormal and harmful eating behaviors which are associated and motivated by unhealthy beliefs, perceptions, and expectations concerning eating, weight, and body shape.
As a general characteristic, individuals with eating disorders tend to have difficulty accepting and feeling good about themselves. Eating disorders do not discriminate by age, gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status. The disorder does not only have an impact on the person who experiences the disorder but also on the people surrounding them. Although the disorder mostly affects girls and women, it can also affect boys, men, and people of all races, but because of the stigma or misconceptions, some people do not reach out for help.
Professionals, the patients, and their families need to better understand the eating disorders and what can be done to deal with it.
Eat Disorder Warning Signs and Symptoms
You start to worry that your loved ones might manifest the warning signs and symptoms of the eating disorders. Whether it is you or your loved ones, do not rely on your will power to get over this situation. Seek for a professional help for yourself or for your loved ones if you suspect that you or they are experiencing these signs and symptoms.
Behavioral Warning Signs
Constant or repetitive diet
- Monitors calorie count
- Skips meal
- Avoids certain food groups
- Replaces meals with fluids
Evidence of binge eating
- Disappearance of large amount of food
- Hoarding of food
Evidence of vomiting or laxative abuse
- Frequent trips to the bathroom during or shortly after meals
Excessive or compulsive exercise patterns
- Refusal to interrupt exercise for any reason
- Exhibiting distress if unable to exercise
- Insistence on performing a number of repetitions of exercises
Changes in food preferences
- Refusing to eat certain foods
- Claiming to dislike foods previously enjoyed
- Sudden interest in ‘healthy eating’
Development of patterns or obsessive rituals around food preparation and eating
- Insisting meals must always be at a certain time
- Only using certain utensils
Behaviors focused around food preparation and planning
- Taking control of the family meals
- Reading cookbooks, recipes, and nutritional guide
- Shopping for food, planning, preparing, and cooking meals for others but not consuming meals themselves
Frequent avoidance of eating meals by giving excuses
- Claiming they have already eaten/have allergies on particular food
Strong focus on body shape and weight
- Interest in weight loss websites
- Dieting tips in books and magazines
- Images of thin people
Development of repetitive or obsessive body checking behaviors
- Pinching waist or wrist
- Repeated weighing of self
- Excessive time spent looking in mirrors
Deceptive behavior around food
- Secretly throwing food out
- Eating in secret
- Lying about type and amount of food consumed
Eating very slowly
- Eating with teaspoons
- Cutting food into small pieces and eating them one at a time
- Rearranging food on plate
Makes list of good food and bad food
Avoidance of all social situations involving food
Change in clothing style
Social withdrawal or isolation from friends, including avoidance of previously enjoyed activities
Continual denial of hunger
Physical Warning Signs
- Sudden or rapid weight loss
- Frequent changes in weight
- Sensitivity to the cold
- Loss or disturbance of menstrual period
- Signs of frequent vomiting
- Fainting, dizziness
Psychological Warning Signs
- Increased preoccupation with body shape, weight, and appearance
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Constant preoccupation with food or activities relating to food
- Extreme body dissatisfaction/negative body image
- Distorted body image
- Heightened sensitivity to comments or criticism about body shape or weight, eating or exercise habits
- Heightened anxiety around meal times
- Depression or anxiety
- Moodiness or irritability
- Low self-esteem
- Rigid black and white thinking
- Feelings of life being out of control
- Feelings of being unable to control behaviors around food
You should put into mind that these warning signs are not easy to recognize, the people suffering from an eating disorder experiences from shame or guilt about their behavior, and will try to hide it. Thus, they will go to extraordinary lengths to conceal it. Please take note that any of these symptoms can or cannot be present in an eating disorder, for no one is exactly the same as another.
Prevention and Treatment
Are there any prevention and treatment for an eating disorder? It is the question we secretly dread. Disordered eating is a coping mechanism, food is not the problem, it is whether you refuse to feel in control, binge for comfort, or purge to punish yourself. Fortunately, there is a greater chance for recovery to those who were earlier diagnosed with an eating disorder. Current treatment options may vary from mental health therapy, nutritional counseling, and medical treatments. Be motivated to change your eating behaviors and be willing to ask for help.
I know what you are thinking, this may seem you have a lot to tackle, it is scary and embarrassing, but remember that you are not alone. Varying levels of treatment ranges from outpatient support groups to inpatient rehabilitation centers, based on the severity of the eating disorder.
Reach out for support, choose someone who you feel safe to vent out to. Allow yourself to be vulnerable with the people you trust. Be patient, and there are also eating disorder support groups who are ready to listen to you. Medical treatment and support is the best combination, it is important to seek for treatment that best works for you. Medical treatments address more than just your symptoms, it concerns the underlying causes of your problems.
Make a long-term treatment plan and learn self-help strategies. Let go of the rigid eating rules, replace them with healthier ones. Do not restrict yourself with food, focus on nutritious foods. Stick to a regular eating schedule, do not skip meals and learn to listen to your body. Learn to accept and love yourself as you are.
Eating Disorder Rehabilitation
At this point you realize, that people with eating disorders often do not receive help, because it is never easy for someone to submit their selves to a professional and admit that they struggle with an eating disorder. Overcoming an eating disorder is a long process, however, if you recognize that you have a problem and you know you need help, you have taken the first step to recovery. People who are suffering from eating disorders can choose from receiving treatment at a residential facility or through an outpatient counseling session.
Although, there is a brighter side with inpatient treatments because the patients are monitored in a more structured treatment environment by dietitians and nutrition experts. All rehabilitation centers consider their cases confidential. There is no promise as to how long the inpatient rehabilitation will last, however, all of it happens at its own pace according to how prepared and motivated the person is. When the person is admitted to the rehabilitation center, the first thing the authorities will do is to undergo the patient with a preliminary physical check-up to determine the underlying health issues.
The next phase is to strictly control the diet designed to get the patient back to its healthy weight and function. After this phase, the behavioral therapy begins. When the patient has recovered, he or she can be released and should learn to live again, but he or she will have to meet the doctor and dietitian regularly to keep track of progress and decrease the possibility of relapse.
To top it off, irregular eating habits and severe distress or concerns about body weight or shape is a concern that should be addressed immediately. The warning signs of eating disorders should not be disregarded because these may indicate that there is a development of an eating disorder. It can develop during any age but typically appears during the teen years or young adulthood. An eating disorder is a complex disorder, influenced by various factors though the exact cause is unknown, it is believed that it is a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental aspects. If you or somebody you know is experiencing several of the following symptoms listed above, seek help immediately. Although these conditions are treatable, the symptoms and consequences can be life-threatening if not addressed. Varying levels of eating disorder treatment ranges from outpatient support groups to inpatient rehabilitation centers, based on the severity of the eating disorder.
Article resource: (1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eating_disorder