Recognizing and Overcoming Eating Disorders

By Lisa Richards

Everyone has a personal relationship with food, whether it’s dietary preferences or health goals. People suffering from eating disorders, however, have unhealthy relationships with food and eating. They are unable to regulate their eating in a beneficial manner. There are different types of eating disorders, including: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, and emotional eating. Learn more about the signs, symptoms, causes, and health risks of eating disorders:

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as diagnosable mental disorders. Eating disorders affect both men and women, but predominately affect young women in developed countries. People struggling with eating disorders are overwhelmingly concerned with food, and often weight, resulting in an over-consumption or under-consumption of food that is ultimately harmful to their body and mental state. Seeking treatment for an eating disorder is important because eating disorders can lead to significant long-term health effects. There are many different treatments available for eating disorders including counseling and education, medication, or hospitalization.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that expresses itself through restriction. People suffering from anorexia have a fear of gaining weight. This irrational fear is usually coupled with a distorted perception of their weight and body. They attempt to lose weight through starvation or over-exercising, resulting in excessive weight loss. Anorexia is typically rooted in issues of control and other emotional issues. It is usually diagnosed in young women. Signs of anorexia Nervosa include rigid eating rituals, excuses to avoid scenarios involving food, loss of menstrual periods due to low body weight, and withdrawal as weight and food management takes precedence in their life. There are many serious health consequences of anorexia nervosa, ranging from low blood pressure and thinning hair to osteoporosis and heart problems.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder, otherwise known as BED, involves episodes of binge eating. Unlike Bulimia Nervosa, there is no countermeasure to offset the caloric consumption from binge eating episodes. While anorexia is characterized by feelings of control and restriction, BED centers on feeling powerless. BED creates a compulsive need to consume large amounts of food during a short period of time, regardless of physical hunger. Sufferers feel strong levels of shame and guilt over what they perceive as their lack of self-control and typically try to hide their binging episodes. It is often linked to depression. Weight is not an indicator of BED, as even normal weight individuals may suffer from BED. However, the physical dangers of BED are similar to those related to obesity. Risks include: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that involves binging and purging. People with bulimia nervosa have binging episodes then attempt to compensate for the episode by purging the food from their body through means including vomiting, laxatives and diuretics, over-exercising, or fasting. Low self-esteem surrounding their weight or appearance is a risk factor for bulimia nervosa. Binging and purging creates a numbing effect toward their weight-related anxiety. While people struggling with bulimia nervosa may be preoccupied with their weight, actual weight is not an indicator as most people suffering from bulimia are of average weight. Some signs of bulimia include swelling of the face, going to the bathroom after meals, injuries on the backs of their hands from inducing vomiting, and mood swings. Bulimia nervosa can cause a large number of health problems. Long-term purging can affect the digestive system and cause oral health problems. In severe cases, binging and purging stresses the cardiovascular system and causes imbalanced electrolytes that can result in potentially life-threatening situations.

Emotional Eating

Emotional eating involves eating due to emotional triggers rather than the body’s natural hunger cues. It occurs suddenly and typically involves an overwhelming craving for a certain food item that the individual believes will soothe their needs. There is a sense of urgency with emotional eating that is not present in normal, physical hunger. Emotional eaters will feel unsatisfied and continue eating even as their body exhibits physical indicators of fullness. Eating elicits feelings of shame and disgust rather than satisfaction. While everyone occasionally eats for emotional reasons, it becomes problematic when used as a coping mechanism rather than dealing with unpleasant feelings. This can lead to excessive weight gain and health concerns like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

This article is contributed by , a published author, health consultant and expert in digestive health.