Understanding Eating Disorders

Self-preservation isn’t worth the effort if you can’t live with the self that you’re preserving. And sometimes, we need to remind ourselves of this very thought. Often, accepting your flaws becomes so much easier than taking compliments. Because while compliments seem fake, criticism always appears valid. In turn, during the process of living life, we seldom forget to love it. 

Food is an essential part of our being. It fuels our body, provides nutritional support to us, and helps in maintaining our growth and existence. Food affects so many aspects of our lives that its importance defies the gravity of its primal needs. So naturally, when we talk about eating disorders, its beyond being simply about food, hunger or dietary habits. Eating Disorders are highly complex psychological conditions that require medical interventions, more times than not, to revise their courses. 

WHAT ARE EATING DISORDERS

Eating disorders have been described as a variety of psychological conditions in the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5. They usually cause unhealthy dietary and eating habits to develop over time, raising a cause for concern. Obsessing over food, an individual’s body shape and size or weight are among the early indicative symptoms of the same. If not paid attention to, it can develop into serious eating behaviours that negatively impact the individual’s health and emotions. It can also tamper with their ability to properly function in crucial areas of their life. These behaviours can have a significant impact on an individual’s body and their ability to get appropriate amounts of nutrition. It can also cause harm to the heart, bones, teeth, and digestive system, along with causing other diseases. 

So what might be considered stress or maintaining a strict calorie count, might actually be an unhealthy relationship with food in the making. Since an individual is the only one who can truly understand themself and their true desires, initiating an honest and genuine conversation with others, concerning their emotions, triggers and perspective, the less-apparent ways their behaviour moulds around an onsetting trigger, along with the available resources for help, becomes extremely important.   

THE VARIOUS SYMPTOMS

People with Eating Disorders (EDs) can have a variety of symptoms, in combinations or stand-alone. Common symptoms may include food binges, purging behaviours such as vomiting or overexercising, and severe food restrictions imposed by the self. While the different disorders within the spectrum of Eating Disorders can have various different-different symptoms, each condition pertains to an extreme focus on food, weight and eating habits, preoccupation with which can make it hard for an individual to focus on other aspects of their life. 

Some of the common mental and behavioural symptoms are:

  • The individual makes excuses to avoid eating meals 
  • Intense fear when it comes to looking ‘fat’ or gaining weight 
  • Concerns pertaining to eating in public
  • The individual complaining about abdominal pain, constipation, lethargy and cold intolerance 
  • Denying feeling hungry
  • Wearing layered clothes to hide their body size, shape or ‘fat’
  • Cooking meals for others without indulging in it themselves 
  • Repeatedly weighing themselves to keep track

Some physical symptoms are:

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • dizziness 
  • Stomach cramps 
  • Thinning of the hair 
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sleep irregularities 
  • Dry, thin and brittle nails 
  • Menstrual irregularities 
  • Low immunity 
  • Slower wound healing powers of the body 
  • Difficulty concentrating at work 

FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO EATING DISORDERS

The exact cause of what causes or exactly triggers Eating Disorders is still not fully known. Many doctors believe that it is a combination of social, psychological, physical and biological (genetic) factors that may contribute to their development. 

  • Societal pressures are probably one of the most driving factors when it comes to having misconstrued perceptions of the ‘ideal looks and body’. The perceived pressure to be ‘thin’ and ‘attractive’, whether it be a cultural preference or societal standards of measuring beauty, can be extremely overwhelming. The matters become worse when personal worth and success are often equated with unseemingly related dimensions of physical beauty and a good physique. Thus, sometimes, the desire to feel accepted, successful or recognised may often fuel unhealthy eating habits and other behaviours associated with food. Exposure to Media may add to such unrealistic expectations.
  • Recently, experts have also found that biological differences such as variations in the brain structure can play a role in the development of eating disorders. The levels of the chemicals in our brains, such as Serotonin and Dopamine levels, can affect an individual’s mood and sleep schedules, along with other functions which can indirectly cause the onset of eating disorders.
  • The genetics of a person also plays a major role in contributing to it. Individuals who may have a sibling, parent or close relative with an eating disorder are often seen to be at a higher risk of developing one. Nurture as well as nature can play a big role. 
  • Personality traits are another factor. Personality traits such as Perfectionism, Impulsivity and Neuroticism can be found to be often linked with a higher risk of developing an eating disorder, according to a 2015 research review carried out by Kristen M Culbert, Sarah E Racine and Kelly L Klump.

TYPES OF EATING DISORDERS

There is a variety of Eating Disorders. The most common ones include Anorexia Nervosa (commonly known as Anorexia), Bulimia Nervosa (commonly known as just Bulimia), Binge-eating Disorder, Pica, Rumination Disorder, Avoidant/Restrictive food intake disorder, Purging Disorder, Night Eating Syndrome and Other specified feeding and eating disorder (OSFED).

CONCLUSION

Being aware of the warning signs and possible symptoms of an eating disorder can not only help an individual identify if they might need medical intervention but can also help them remain vigilant and equipped, being able to identify when a near or dear one might need to seek therapy. Identifying the symptoms and receiving proper help for the same can tremendously improve an individual’s chances of a full and speedy recovery. 

These are a few signs that one should be looking out for. It is not necessary that an individual might be displaying all the below-stated symptoms, but certain behavioural patterns are indicative of the onset of such disorders:  

  • Constantly being preoccupied with weight, food, calorie intake, dieting, fat, grams, etc
  • Refusal to eat or avoiding certain kinds of food groups
  • Skipping meals
  • Eating only small quantities of food at once 
  • Frequently dieting 
  • Often looking at the mirror for perceived ‘flaws’ in their appearance 
  • Extreme mood swings 
  • Extreme concern regarding body weight and shape, driving a person’s self-worth 

If either or a few of these symptoms resonate with you, it is important to reach out to a health professional. The entire process of discovering an underlying cause might feel overwhelming and scary, but it’s a journey in which you aren’t alone and there are various sources which will help and support you along the way, to reach your best, optimal self.

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