Eating disorders are diseases that cause people to overeat, starve themselves, or adopt other unhealthy habits related to food and body weight. These disorders – overeating, anorexia nervosa and bulimia – are not just bad habits. They interfere with daily life and, without proper treatment, can cause serious health problems. Eating disorders affect at least 9% of the world’s population.
There is a widespread misconception that eating disorders are a matter of lifestyle choices. But this is not the case at all.
It’s normal to change your eating habits from time to time. But if you feel that food captures all your attention and your life, then this indicates that there is a problem.
Eating disorders are mental and physical illnesses classified by unhealthy relationships with food and serious eating disorders. Painful preoccupation with food, body weight and shape can also signal an eating disorder. Interestingly, even a moderate diet is enough to increase the likelihood of developing an eating disorder by 5 times. And adherents of extreme restrictions are 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who do not follow a diet at all.
What are eating disorders?
The three most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa (severe restriction in food), compulsive overeating (eating exceptionally large amounts of food and loss of control over eating behavior) and bulimia nervosa (overeating with subsequent compensation).
Anorexia nervosa is characterized by a restriction in food, which leads to the fact that a person cannot maintain a normal and healthy weight. People suffering from anorexia nervosa have a strong fear of gaining weight, regardless of their current weight and appearance.
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurring episodes of overeating with subsequent compensatory actions, such as cleansing the body or excessive physical exertion. People suffering from bulimia nervosa often pay excessive attention to body shape or weight.
This eating disorder is characterized by recurring episodes of overeating, defined as the consumption of large amounts of food, accompanied by a sense of loss of control. It is more common in overweight and obese people.
Less widespread disorders
An unstable diet is a disturbed and unhealthy diet. This can include a restrictive diet, compulsive overeating, or skipping meals.
PICA is an eating disorder in which people eat something that is not considered food. For example, they can eat dirt, chalk, soap, hair, washing powder and much more.
It’s an obsession with a healthy or “clean” diet. A person is fixated on the benefits of healthy food, its quality, but not necessarily on the amount of food. Orthorexia is not currently recognized as an official diagnosis of an eating disorder, but there is growing recognition that it is a separate disorder.
More commonly known as “extremely picky food”. A person suffering from this disorder often demonstrates very selective eating habits, a disturbed diet, or both.
OSFED can manifest itself with many symptoms of other eating disorders, but the person does not meet all the criteria for diagnosing these eating disorders.
What are the common symptoms of eating disorders?
There are some warning signs that are characteristic of most people with eating disorders.
If you or someone you know is experiencing several of the following symptoms, it is important to seek help immediately to determine if there is a problem.
It is also important to understand that these warning signs are not as easy to detect as they sound. A person with an eating disorder often feels shame or guilt about their behavior and tries to hide it. Many people with eating disorders don’t realize they have a problem, or even if they do, they may not give up their behavior at first because it’s their problem-solving mechanism. Thus, they will do everything possible to hide the signs of their behavior from the people who care about them.
Behavioral warning signs
Behavioral warning signs include:
- a constant or repetitive diet (for example, counting calories/kilojoules, skipping meals, fasting, giving up certain groups or types of foods, such as meat or dairy products, replacing food with liquids);
- regular overeating;
- evidence of vomiting or abuse of laxatives (e.g., frequent trips to the bathroom during or shortly after a meal); excessive or compulsive modes of exercise (e.g., exercise in trauma or in bad weather, failure to interrupt the exercises, for any reason, persistence in completing a certain number of repetitions, the manifestation of distress if they are unable to do the exercises);
- lists of “good” and “bad” foods;
- changes in food preferences (e.g. sudden interest in “healthy eating”);
- the development of patterns or obsessive rituals related to cooking and eating (for example, drinking only from a certain cup);
- avoiding all social situations related to food;
- frequent avoidance of eating under pretexts (for example, claiming that they have already eaten or have an intolerance/allergy to certain foods);
- strong emphasis on body shape and weight (for example, interest in weight loss websites);
- development of repetitive or obsessive body-checking behavior (e.g., multiple weigh-ins);
- social isolation or isolation from friends, including avoiding previously favorite activities;
- changing the style of clothing, for example baggy clothes;
- deceptive behavior around food (for example, secretly throwing out food, secretly eating or lying about the amount or type of food consumed);
- constant denial of hunger.
Physical warning signs
Physical warning signs of an eating disorder are:
- sudden or rapid weight loss;
- frequent weight changes;
- sensitivity to cold (feeling cold most of the time, even in a warm environment);
- loss or disruption of the menstrual cycle (for women);
- fainting, dizziness;
- fatigue is a constant feeling of fatigue, inability to perform normal activities.
Psychological warning signs
From mental warning signs:
- increased concern about body shape, weight and appearance;
- constant preoccupation with food or food-related activities;
- extreme dissatisfaction with the body/negative body image;
- hypersensitivity to comments or criticism about body shape or weight, eating habits or exercise;
- increased anxiety during meals;
- depression or anxiety;
- low self-esteem (for example, feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, or self-hatred);
- rigid “black-and-white” thinking (viewing everything as “good” or “bad”);
- a sense of inability to control their behavior related to food.
Any combination of these symptoms can be present in an eating disorder, because no eating disorder can be identical to another. A person can also demonstrate several of these signs, but does not suffer from an eating disorder. Only a professional can understand the situation and make the correct diagnosis.
Difficulties in treating eating disorders
Although eating disorders can be successfully treated, only 1 in 10 people with such a problem ever receive treatment.
Some people don’t seek help because they think their problem isn’t serious enough. Sometimes they don’t feel “sick enough” to “seriously treat” their eating problems.
Also, people often tend to hide their problems with eating. Sometimes it can take a very long time.
Various methods are used to treat eating disorders. Treatment will vary depending on the type of disease, but usually includes the following:
- psychotherapy, such as conversation or behavioral therapy;
- medications such as antidepressants and sedatives: many patients and specialists believe that these medications help with major problems;
- nutritional advice and weight recovery monitoring are also of great importance.
However, most of the existing treatment regimens do not take into account the existing metabolic disorders, without correction of which the effect of treatment is short-lived in a sufficiently large number of cases.
Is it possible to successfully treat and fully recover from an eating disorders?
Seeking help as early as possible significantly reduces the severity, duration and consequences of an eating disorder. If you notice any warning signs or symptoms, whether in yourself or in someone you care about, you should seek professional help immediately, rather than waiting for the disease to progress. Then success is possible.
Individually oriented step-by-step treatment
Step-by-step, person-centered care is the most effective way to treat an eating disorder. This approach means that treatment is tailored specifically to the individual’s illness, situation and needs, and it is also recognized that people with eating disorders may need to move up and down these levels of care in different ways throughout the period of illness. When considering approaches to the treatment of an eating disorder, it is important to understand that people respond differently to different types of treatment, even if they suffer from the same eating disorder.
In addition to drug therapy with psychoactive drugs and psychotherapy, it is important to use methods of correction of metabolic disorders. Such an opportunity is provided, for example, by methods of orthomolecular medicine. These scientifically proven methods have proven effective in the treatment of eating disorders. For example, the use of a special dosage regimen of vitamin B1 has demonstrated good results in the treatment of anorexia, and the additional introduction of zinc compounds into the diet has proved useful in a number of eating disorders.
As a rule, these methods are not used in isolation as monotherapy, and a person with an eating disorder usually receives a combination of treatment as part of their recovery program.
Some treatments are better suited to treat certain eating disorders than others, and a multidisciplinary treatment approach often becomes the best way to treat an eating disorder.
Interdisciplinary treatment includes psychology, psychiatry, dietetics, nutrition, general medicine, family therapy, as well as self-help and various additional or concomitant methods of treatment.
Such an integrated approach with the restoration of normal metabolism provides a long and lasting result.