#94 TRENDING IN Mental Health & Self Love 🔥

Understanding Eating Disorders

Mental Health & Self Love

April 20, 2023

We've all seen depictions of beautiful women, hunched over a toilet seat or a bathroom scale and shedding a single tear. These images of eating disorders are not real. Film has romanticized these illnesses, tugging at heartstrings while hiding the ugly. What do we know about eating disorders, if not these glorified pieces of weight-loss propaganda?

Loved ones of anorexics and binge eaters often have no clue about the death looming over the heads of their beloved sufferers. In this article, we'll discuss everything there is to know about eating disorders, from the reasons behind them to the many variations. If you, or someone you know, is a victim of an eating disorder, we strongly recommend seeking professional help.

What are Eating Disorders?

The definition of an eating disorder is a 'persistent disturbance of eating behavior and impairment of physical or mental health.' Please note the lack of details; eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. The image that has been screen printed onto our brains is that of a skinny, high school girl. While it is true that 90% of eating disorders appear in young women, that is not the only demographic.

Men or women, children or seniors, overweight or underweight, there is no limitation on who can develop an eating disorder. These illnesses are distinct differences in how the average person eats due to mental compulsions or avoidance. They can develop for a wide range of reasons, but are life-threatening and should be treated as early as possible.

Anorexia Nervosa

What is it?

While not the most common, anorexia nervosa is the most well-known branch of eating disorders. Anorexia is a restrictive disorder, most often an extremely low-calorie diet paired with a severe fear of gaining weight and an intense workout regimen. Those with anorexia usually obsess over calories, limiting the amount of energy their body receives in return for a lower number on the scale.

Though being underweight is necessary for many medical anorexia diagnoses, mental health professionals disagree. Less than 6% of those with eating disorders are underweight. Dying due to anorexia does not have to be accompanied by an emaciated appearance, and this outdated checkbox for a diagnosis is the reason for the high mortality rate.

Causes

The largest causes of anorexia nervosa are low self-esteem and body image issues. For various reasons, people develop insecurities about their bodies. An incredibly common insecurity revolves around weight.

Some choose to try and lose the weight they dislike, slashing their caloric input. This can easily become obsessive, and strugglers begin to find both control in restricting their food and anxiety about eating 'too much.' This is how anorexia often begins. While there is no one-size-fits-all explanation, anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder centered around extreme self-discipline.

Effects

Anorexia nervosa kills hundreds of thousands of people every year. Suicide and organ failure run rampant for those with this debilitating mental illness. Many are hospitalized, in both psychiatric and medical wards.

In addition to the physical effects, anorexia can be the reason for extremely low mental health both in the sufferer and those around them. Eating disorders are competitive. A large 'trigger' for strugglers is seeing others eat less, weigh less, or work out more. This feeds into the cycle of cutting calories, possibly influencing another person's diet.

Anorexia Recovery Tips

Binge Eating Disorder

What is it?

Binge eating disorder is an illness in which one cannot control their eating. While most people overeat on occasion, binge eaters frequently lose command of their impulses. Binge episodes often occur multiple times a week and are defined as periods of time in which a person eats an unusually large amount of food, regardless of if they are hungry or not.

This disorder is incredibly common but still considered a taboo topic. Those with the disorder are at risk for health problems including heart disease, diabetes, and more. In addition, binge eating disorder is most often paired with other mental illnesses, especially depression.

Causes

Eating disorders are commonly found side-by-side with other mental illnesses, notably depression and anxiety. Because of this, eating disorders can almost be a side effect of other struggles, slowly morphing into a killer. This is often the case with binge eating disorder.

Anxiety can make people 'emotionally eat,' or eat as a coping mechanism. When done too often, this can lead to a binge eating disorder.

Effects

A common effect of a binge eating disorder is weight gain. By itself, weight gain is in no way a bad thing, and can be necessary. However, sometimes it can be accompanied by health issues, including heart disease and diabetes.

In addition, binge eating disorder can cause immense shame and guilt in the person struggling. These feelings can lead to developing, or worsening, mental health issues. Like many other eating disorders, a direct side effect is suicide.

Binge Eating Disorder Recovery Tips

Bulimia Nervosa

What is it?

Bulimia nervosa is often confused with both binge eating disorder and anorexia nervosa. While it has similar aspects, bulimia is its own demon and its own reason for concern. This eating disorder is characterized by the infamous cycle of 'binging and purging.' To elaborate, binging is the same as seen in a binge eating disorder.

Sufferers feel that they have no control over limiting how much they eat, often overeating and experiencing extreme guilt. The purging aspect is unique to bulimia. To prevent weight gain, victims unnaturally remove the food they have previously binged.

Common examples of this are misusing laxatives or forcing themselves to vomit. The method of purging is unique to the individual.

Causes

Similar to anorexia nervosa, bulimia often begins with low self-esteem. Body image issues skyrocket during adolescence, which is one of the biggest reasons for the large percentage of high school students with eating disorders. Strugglers usually attempt to restrict themselves so they can lose weight, ignoring cravings and temptations. Then, often at night, the person suffering will give in to their hunger and begin the binging cycle.

Effects

Bulimia nervosa has various medical effects, all negative. Depending on the method of purging, the outcomes can vary. Abusing laxatives can lead to severe gastrointestinal issues, many being life-long.

Forced regurgitation causes tooth decay because of stomach acid. In addition, this method can cause a ruptured esophagus. Lastly, the fluctuation between being in and out of control can cause intense anxiety and obsessive tendencies.

Bulimia Recovery Steps

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

What is it?

An eating disorder that continuously goes untalked about: Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, or ARFID. Most commonly appearing in young children, ARFID is a restrictive eating disorder that doesn't revolve around weight or body image. Medical professionals have divided the eating disorder into three sections.

The first section revolves around the food itself. The next category of ARFID is about eating. The last division is centered around anxiety.

Causes

Each section of ARFID comes with its own unique causes. In the first variation, sufferers will avoid new foods due to texture, smell, taste, or any other characteristic. This can lead to an incredibly limited diet, more so than the average picky eater.

Strugglers of the second version will evade eating because of a lack of interest. This can accompany depression or ADHD. Lastly, people with the third version of ARFID stop eating because of a major fear of the consequences, most commonly choking or vomiting. All three variations of ARFID show distinct signs of other emotional or behavioral disorders, ranging from general anxiety to autism.

Effects

Similar to anorexia nervosa, vital organs are at risk of shutting down when they do not receive the proper nutrients. Due to the age of many victims, ARFID stunts growth, both mentally and physically. In addition, those with the illness can end up developing other eating disorders, namely anorexia. This is because of beliefs around control and possible positive comments on weight loss.

ARFID Recovery Tools

Recovery

Professional help is the best way to deal with an eating disorder. The body positivity movement is one that aims to eliminate eating disorders and heal relationships with food. However, eating disorders are best cured in a hospital environment.

Whether it is yourself or a loved one, everybody deserves to recover. We have linked several eating disorder recovery materials below. Please, reach out for help or encourage your friends or family members.

Recovery is not an easy process, and it often takes a lot of work. However, in every case, it is worth it. Nobody should live their life worrying about calories and body image. It is obsessive and can, and will, kill.

Nora Wagner
20k+ pageviews

Nora Wagner is a 16-year-old American international student based in England. At a young age, she developed a passion for music and fashion and, since then, has loved reading and writing about them. Nora enjoys playing instruments, reading, and shopping with her friends in her free time.

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