Eating disorders are a serious, complex mental health disorder and like many psychological issues, are quite misunderstood. Eating disorders, or ED’s, impact tons of Americans each year with estimates placing it’s prevalence between 7 and 15 million. Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and eating disorders “not otherwise specified” affect both females and males of varying ages, races, and cultural backgrounds. No one is “immune” to an eating disorder, and many may not even realize that their eating habits are maladaptive. While each individual disorder has its own set of symptoms, there are several commonalities found across them all. All ED’s include extreme attitudes surrounding food and body image issues. These extreme attitudes often result in equally extreme behaviors and emotions about weight and food. These behaviors manifest themselves differently depending on the specific disorder.
Anorexia is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Food restriction is taken to the extreme in this disorder.
Bulimia is characterized by a dangerous cycle of episodes of excessive eating followed by extreme compensatory methods. These methods can include self-induced vomiting, inappropriate laxative use, and even over-excessive exercise to “make up” for the large amount of food they consumed.
Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia but does not feature the compensatory behaviors.
ED not otherwise specified is a diagnosis used when a person does not meet all of the criteria for a specific disorder but still shows several symptoms, or their symptoms are a mix of different disorders.
Eating disorders are considered to be one of the most dangerous mental health ailments. An estimated 10% of those affected will likely die from complications due to their ED. This includes starvation or malnutrition, cardiac complications, cancer, and suicide. It is important to remember that ED’s are not simply about “being skinny,” so banish this myth from your mind right now! Rather, they are pervasive and often are the result of trauma or extreme stress. People often turn to their food intake as a way of feeling in control of their lives. Control is they key word here. When we undergo extreme stress or traumatic events we lose our sense of control. For millions regulating their food intake and output is an easy way to regain that control, even though it may not be adaptive.
For those suffering with an eating disorder, there is hope. Treatment has been proven successful and should be sought as soon as possible. Below is a list of signs that you or someone you love may be at risk for an eating disorder:
- Thoughts about “feeling fat”
- Fear of gaining weight
- Feelings of loss of control when eating
- Making excuses to avoid family meals
- Staying away from social situations that involve eating
- Weight determines self-esteem
- Body image obsession
- Counting calories and fat grams when you eat
- Feelings of guilt and shame that follow eating
- Habitual dieting
- Consuming large quantities of food in short intervals of time
- Self-consciousness or embarrassment about eating
- Sneaking food
- Lying about eating habits
- Restrictive eating
- Self-induced vomiting
- Laxative abuse
- Diuretic abuse
- Use of diet pills
- Compulsive exercise
- Exercising because you feel you have to, not because you want to
- Eating to relieve stress or depression
- Eating when not hungry
- Eating sensibly in front of others and then making up for it when alone
- Low body weight
- Embarrassment about body weight
- Low self-esteem
- Difficulty identifying or expressing feelings
- Strict dieting
- Menstrual irregularities
While individually these signs may not seem like a big deal, when several of them are combined together, it can place a person in dangerous territory. Furthermore it is likely that an eating disorder occurs alongside other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
If you think you or someone you care about may have an eating disorder, we urge you to seek support. We cannot stress enough how hazardous they can be to both your mental and physical health. And if you live in the Denver or Aurora area and would like to talk to someone about an eating disorder please contact the Center for Healing and Change, we are here to assist you.
Wishing you blue skies,