As relatively mundane as stuffing your face might seem, your dietary life is a very complex and crucial part of your health. And just like in other aspects of health, there are many disorders associated with eating, which can potentially put your overall health and life at risk. In the US alone, the prevalence of these disorders between 2018 and 2019 was an estimated 5.5 million cases. Throw in the excess premature mortality rates among people with one type or the other of eating disorders, and you can see a real problem here.
So, do you or someone close to you have an eating disorder? How can you tell if this is the case, and what can you do about it? Read on, and let’s discuss these.
What Is an Eating Disorder?
The first thing you need to know about eating disorders is that they are about more than just food. An eating disorder is anyone out of a range of complex psychological conditions that cause unhealthy feeding habits to develop. Depending on their nature and severity, these habits may require the involvement of different health experts, including psychologists and dieticians/nutritionists, to resolve.
At first thought, an eating disorder may not sound like a serious thing, at least not until you realize it has to do with food, one of the things you can’t live without. If left untreated, you could starve yourself to death. In any case, the question follows logically: what are the relevant causes?
What Causes Eating Disorders?
As with a host of other common health disorders, there are several known causes for feeding disorders. Here are the best-known ones, although there are almost certainly others yet unidentified.
1. Fasting and Dieting
Nutritional experts, licensed or otherwise, generally recommend fasting and dieting for various reasons. For instance, your nutritionist or doctor might recommend intermittent fasting for weight loss, or they might give you a diet plan instead. However, everything with benefits has some associated risks, and these practices do. Intermittent fasting, in particular, has been linked to a higher risk of psychopathology related to eating disorders. This link is stronger for the more stringent fasting and dieting schedules, such as the OMAD diet plan or dry fasting.
Sometimes, the problem is not so much in your psyche as it is in your cells. Some types of eating disorders have been linked to genetics, with siblings of affected people facing a higher risk of sharing the relevant disorder. For instance, studies show that sufferers of an eating disorder called Anorexia Nervosa share some potentially causative genetic abnormalities.
As eating disorders are psychological problems, it makes sense that your personality can potentially cause or contribute to them. For instance, if you are a perfectionist, you will likely also have that attitude toward your body weight and proportions. Obsession with body weight is usually followed by obsessive dieting and weight loss in people with obsessive-compulsive disorders or neuroticism.
4. Social Factors
The world around you can also affect your eating habits, especially the people in it. Welcome to 2023, where pop culture and celebrity lifestyle push increasingly unrealistic standards of beauty to the general populace. This has caused lots of anxiety in young people, leading to a lot of not-so-hip outcomes.
While some have turned to cosmetic surgery and whatnot, others have opted for more healthy solutions like dieting, fasting, and exercise. Unfortunately, over-indulgence (or mis-indulgence) in these practices, typically driven by social pressures, usually leads to unsavory outcomes, such as eating disorders.
Common Eating Disorders
There are several types of eating disorders, but we will only briefly overview the most common ones and their symptoms.
If we can think of the popularity of an eating disorder as a celebrity status, Anorexia would be one of the most massive ED celebrities. It’s one of the most well-known feeding disorders, and it affects an estimated 6% of the US population.
This eating disorder is characterized by low body weight, and it affects women more than men. People who have anorexia usually view themselves as overweight and constantly fear gaining any more weight. Obsessive-compulsive symptoms also come into play here, as the obsession with weight tends to cause obsessive weight loss practice.
This is probably the most common eating disorder you ever heard about, with high prevalence rates to place it on the map as a legit public health problem. Although it can develop later in life, binge-eating disorder often starts in the early or mid-period of adolescence and the early stages of adulthood.
A binge eater will usually consume massive amounts of food in short amounts of time. While binging, they will feel out of control and unable to stop themselves. The symptoms are similar to that of Bulimia, except that Bulimia makes you eat by the boatload and force your body to eliminate the food. Bulimics do this latter part by familiar methods: forced vomiting, enemas, diuretics, laxatives, fasting, and excessive exercise to burn every last calorie.
Very short name for a very strange disorder; at least, it is for most people. While the others we’ve mentioned involve either eating too little or eating too much (or a combination of both and obsessive calorie-burning), Pica has to do with nutritional irrelevance. If you suffer from Pica, you have an appetite for things that have extremely little or no nutritional value, such as foam, ice, dirt, and chalk. In the most extreme cases, you might go for plastic or metal.
As with other eating disorders, Pica can affect anyone of any age demographic. However, it disproportionately affects children under 6, pregnant people, and those with mental disorders.
What to Do About Eating Disorders?
If you have an eating disorder or notice that someone close to you does, what should you do?
Well, the first thing to do is get a nutritional specialist involved. Some serious treatment is potentially necessary. If the sufferer is someone other than yourself, you must give them some prior (and continuous) love and support, as their mental health is a big part of the issue. You can do this by listening, including them in activities, and trying to build their self-esteem.
There is a range of treatments for various disorders, and the nutritionist (or any other relevant health expert) will know which works best for the specific one. The available treatment options include psychotherapy (to resolve the psychological dimension of the problem) and nutritional counseling. There are usually also medications involved; these include drugs to resolve any physiological components of the disorder and even some of the psychological ones.
However, you should note that treatment as early as possible is ideal, as treating the disorder is always more effective before it becomes a serious problem. This is why you should always keep an eye on your eating habits and that of your family.
Eating disorders might seem like lower-tier health disorders—like they are no big deal. But they are massive deals that can crush your health if you don’t watch out. With unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders, you stand the risk of severe ailments and even death from malnutrition (including over-nutrition). This is why you must keep a weather eye out for any signs that you or someone close to you isn’t eating right.
This post has briefly shown you some of the most well-known disorders and their symptoms. However, darkly enough, there are lots more where those came from, and that’s where your nutritionist comes in. If you ever notice such symptoms as an obsession with weight, prolonged lack of appetite, or any other abnormalities in your feeding habits, you should talk to your nutritionist about it immediately.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. It is always advised to take the help of a medical professional if you have any health concerns. This is just for informational purposes only.