Eating Disorders

Do you keep binge-eating without stopping for hours? Or are you avoiding eating completely to maintain your weight and body shape?
Though these could seem normal habits, they actually could be signs of abnormal behaviours or serious eating disorders that can affect you both mentally and physically, causing constant worry and guilt about body weight and appearance.
What are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are serious psychological conditions characterised by persistent and unhealthy eating behaviours that can impact your health, emotions and certain life functions. Most of them involve an excessive focus on body weight, size and shape leading to dangerous eating habits, health issues, severe diseases and even death. These disorders might develop in early childhood and persist throughout adulthood and beyond.

Different types of disorders have different signs and symptoms that affect people both mentally and physically.

Some of them include:

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Concerns about eating in public
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or repeatedly weighing oneself
  • Dieting or limiting the amount and type of food consumed or making excuses to avoid mealtime
  • Constipation, abdominal pain, lethargy
  • Denying feeling hungry
  • Patterns of binge eating
  • Excessively exercising to burn off maximum calories
  • Cooking meals for others without eating
  • Poor immune system function
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Stomach cramps and other gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Dizziness, fainting, sleep irregularities, difficulty concentrating
  • Atypical lab test results (anaemia, low thyroid levels, low hormone levels, low potassium)
  • Dry skin, thinning hair, muscle weakness

There are different types of eating disorders and each has its characteristics, diagnosis and symptoms.

Some of the commonly known eating disorders include:

 Anorexia Nervosa

The most well-known type of eating disorder, Anorexia Nervosa is a life-threatening disorder often diagnosed among teenagers and young adults. It involves restricted food intake, resulting in abnormally low body weight and distorted perception of the shape and size of the body. Due to an intense fear of gaining weight, the person tends to limit the calories and lose weight with extreme methods like excessive exercise, using diet aids or vomiting after eating. This disorder can have worse effects on the body and can result in infertility, thinning of bones, multi-organ failure etc.

 Some symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa include:

  • Restricted eating patterns
  • Behavioural changes to avoid gaining weight
  • Relentless pursuit of thickness
  • Distorted body image

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is another life-threatening eating disorder and involves episodes of binging and purging. During the episodes, the person binge eats a large amount of food in a short time without any control. Then due to shame, guilt or fear of weight gain, try rigorous methods like excessive exercise, enema, fasting, or forced vomiting to get rid of the extra calories in an unhealthy way.
This disorder can cause acid reflux, tooth decay, swollen salivary glands, severe dehydration, hormonal disturbances, and in some cases, heart attack or stroke.

 The symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa include:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating
  • Recurrent episodes of inappropriate purging behaviours
  • Low self-esteem due to weight and body shape
  • Fear of weight gain

  Binge Eating Disorder

The most common eating disorder, Binge-Eating Disorder is characterised by regular eating without any control. The person tends to eat quickly more food than intended, even after they are uncomfortably full. Unlike other disorders, people with this disorder do not compensate for the behaviour, rather they start eating alone to hide the embarrassment or guilt. Sometimes they might binge on unhealthy food, resulting in obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease etc.

The common symptoms of Binge-Eating Disorder are:

  • Rapidly eating large amounts of food
  • No calorie restriction or exercise to compensate for binge eating
  • Eating alone to hide the behaviour or feeling of shame or guilt

Rumination Disorder
This disorder involves repeated and persistent regurgitation of food after eating. Here, the food is intentionally brought back up to the mouth in the first 30 minutes after eating, without nausea or gagging and is rechewed, swallowed or spit out. It is more common in infants and children. This disorder may result in weight loss and severe malnutrition if the food is spat out or if the person limits their eating to prevent the behaviour.

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Previously known as a selective disorder, this disorder involves eating by restricted food intake due to a lack of interest in eating, taste, food smell, texture or temperature. Here the person is not concerned about body image or weight. This disorder can cause significant weight loss or failure to gain weight and other health problems due to nutrient deficiency.

 The signs of this disorder include:

  • Restriction of food intake
  • Eating habits that impact social functions like avoiding eating with others
  • Weight loss or poor development
  • Nutrient deficiency  

 Some other eating disorders are:

  • Night Eating Syndrome
  • Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders
  • Pica
  • Orthorexia Nervosa
  • Purging disorder

While the exact causes of eating disorders are not known, some factors could trigger them, like -

  • Genes
  • Abuse or Bullying
  • Dieting
  • Social issues - body-shaming,  judgements, social media,
  • Life transitions
  • Mental illness, Stress, Anxiety etc.
  • Puberty

Early intervention can help in preventing the disorders or limiting their effects.
Some of the ways to prevent or control eating disorders are:

 Self Help

  1. Take care of your diet with a proper check on calorie intake.
  2. Eat healthy foods but do not over-eat or under-eat.
  3. Educate yourself and everyone around you on dietary habits and be aware of all the disorders so that you can note their early signs.
  4. Try to build a positive body image, do not get influenced by others and avoid the people and media sources that constantly comment on body appearance.
  5. If you notice any behavioural changes or notice any symptoms of any disorder, talk to someone close to you and take immediate help.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT is for adult eating disorders and includes body structure exposure, meal planning, regular eating, relapse prevention, cognitive restructuring etc.

Nutritional Therapy
In this therapy, a professional dietician provides proper guidance on a healthy diet and helps you make the necessary dietary changes.

To control or restrict the symptoms of eating disorders, you need therapy, and in some cases, proper treatment and medication are required.
The mental health experts at Sarvodaya Hospital provide clinical evaluation and treatment services for a broad range of emotional, cognitive, and behavioural disorders.
Consult them by booking your appointment online or call 18003131414. .

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