Eating disorders are severe illnesses associated with disturbances in people’s eating behaviours and related thoughts and emotions. There is often a misconception that eating disorders are an unhealthy “lifestyle choice”. In fact, eating disorders are a range of psychological conditions that begins with an obsession with food, body weight or shape which leads to development of unhealthy eating habits. If left untreated, it can be even fatal.
The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. It can occur due to either one or more of the following :
- Genetic factors
- Changes in brain functioning
- Emotional problems
- Personality traits
- Cultural preferences
- Exposure to media glorifying ideas such as “slim fit”
Symptoms vary depending on the type of eating disorder. There are many types of eating disorders. Major three are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorders.
- Anorexia nervosa
People with anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight even if they are extremely and dangerously underweight. Efforts to reduce weight by controlling food intake in such cases can lead to severe health problems and sometimes it can be deadly. Symptoms include:
- Intense fear of weight gain
- Takes efforts to reduce weight such as excessive exercise even if you are underweight
- Have a distorted perception of body shape and/or weight
- Extremely restricted eating
- Emaciation – extreme thinness
- Unwilling to maintain a normal healthy weight
- Bulimia nervosa
People with bulimia nervosa have a feeling of lack of control over eating. They have recurrent and frequent episodes of eating and intake of large amounts of food in a short time. People with bulimia nervosa can be slightly underweight, normal weight or a bit overweight .Symptoms include:
- Trying to reduce weight in unhealthy way such as excessive exercise or forced vomiting
- Judge yourself harshly for your self perceived flaws
- Acid reflux disorder
- Binge eating disorder
People with binge eating disorder lose control over eating and intake large amounts of food regularly. This can lead to obesity. Symptoms include:
- Eating fast and more amount than actually intended
- Eating even when you are not hungry
- Eating until you are uncomfortably full
- Eating alone or in secret due to fear of embarrassment
Diagnosis of eating disorders include:
- Review of signs, symptoms and eating habits
- Physical exam
- Psychological evaluation
- Various other tests to assess your health condition
- DSM 5 criteria (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders)
There are no exact preventive measures for eating disorders. Some possible measures are:
- Teach and encourage healthy eating habits at early stages of life
- Share realistic attitudes about food and body images and reinforce positively
- If choosing to diet for weight loss or weight gain, it is better to consult a dietician and make sure you choose a healthy diet without lack of required nutrients
- If you suspect an eating disorder, get treated at the earliest symptoms.
Treatment measures for eating disorders include:
- Healthy eating: intake of healthy diet is an important measure in the treatment of eating disorders that can help you to restore a healthy body weight.
- Psychotherapy: a treatment method in which you learn about your thoughts, emotions, feelings, moods or behaviours and helps you to eliminate or control your troubling symptoms. Different methods or types of psychotherapy such as family-based therapy and cognitive behaviour therapy are used in the treatment of specific phobias.
- Medications: medicines cannot completely cure the condition. Certain medications can help in controlling urges to binge or have excessive amounts of food uncontrollably. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs can help in coping with depression and anxiety, that is associated with eating disorders.
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