The line that distinguishes an eating disorder from bad eating habits can be very subtle. Eating behaviors, food quantities, and dieting patterns can all help make this distinction. Being able to identify an eating disorder will help us take better care of ourselves and those we care about.
Knowledge about eating disorders also helps debunk many myths that revolve around eating disorders. For example, a common myth is that eating disorders are limited to women and teenage girls- both of which are extremely incorrect.
What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders have both psychological and physical components. Experts at the Mayo Clinic define it as “persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact health, emotions, and ability to function.” Eating disorders can have a wide range of symptoms that vary depending on disorder type and on the individual.
It is important to recognize that an eating disorder is not a choice, but an illness. If it were a choice, the individual would have complete control over their eating behaviors. It is the loss of control over eating behaviors that make it a disorder and dangerous.
The Role of Social Media
Social media standards for body image and endless diet advice can pave the way for and supplement an eating disorder- but do not directly cause it. For example, an obsession over body shape, size, and image are common in individuals with an eating disorder.
As a result, this individual is more likely to pursue a body image and take the wrong steps to get there. When one considers the many diet fads and routines that promise results, it becomes easy to understand this relationship. Eating disorders have complex roots relating to both the individual and the environment.
Also known as just “anorexia,” this eating disorder is can lead to severe health problems and self-starvation. Individuals with anorexia are usually obsessed with and afraid of gaining weight- they may feel overweight.
This false perception and obsession weight-gain leads to problematic behaviors like extreme diet and exercise. Other unhealthy methods to keep the weight off includes food restrictions, the use of laxatives and diuretics, diet pills and vomiting.
Also known as just “bulimia,” this eating disorder is also associated with a fear of weight gain. Individuals with bulimia, however, tend to have an episode of binge eating followed by vomiting.
The fear of gaining weight leads these individuals to consume large amounts of food in a short period of time and then force it out to prevent digesting it. Bulimia may also lead to extreme dieting and exercise, the use of laxatives and diet pills, and poor nutrition.
Binge eating is becoming more and more common. A lack of control over the quantity of food consumed and eating when not hungry characterizes binge eating. A person may eat despite being full, not hungry, and may not even notice the large quantities.
Shame and hopelessness usually follow an episode of binge eating. A person may become disgusted with their own eating behavior and beat themselves up for it. Some individuals even hide to binge eat and not feel the judgment of others. Extreme efforts to limit weight-gain are also common in these individuals.
Eating disorders are not limited to a specific sex or age- anyone is in a way susceptible to it. Detrimental eating behaviors lead to nutrition problems that affect multiple organ systems including the digestive and immune systems.
The lack of control is what makes it a disorder, recovery requires a team effort from family members and health professionals. Eating disorders have both physical and mental components- it helps to have a professional for each (like a dietitian and a therapist).
- “Eating Disorders: About More Than Food.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/index.shtml