Bess had always been self-conscious about her body. She always cared a bit too much about how she looked. Her weight was always a constant worry for her. She would eat little, or sometimes nothing as she never wanted to pack in the pounds. When she looked in the mirror, she was fat, ugly and unfit. In real life, she was a merely 50 kgs; thin, weak and fragile.
Bess would always use all means to avoid eating and would go on extreme diets. It got to a point where she could no longer eat out in public and even stopped going out altogether. She was in a constant fear that she would get fat and ugly if she ate. This fear began to manifest in front of her family and they got concerned.
Bess’ mom would make her daughter eat. And every time she would eat, she would excuse herself and induce vomit. She would vomit till there was nothing left. Her mother soon realized what her daughter was up to and immediately took her to hospital as she knew something was gravely wrong. In hospital, she was diagnosed with Anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder.
Bess still struggles with her weight. She still sees herself as overweight while in real sense, she is dangerously underweight. She has stopped having restricted and weird eating patterns, and her intense fears of gaining weight are fading away as she has embraced her therapy sessions.
Eating disorders are a psychological condition that brings about unhealthy eating habits. They usually start with food, body shape and body weight obsessions. These disorders are classified as mental health conditions and can affect anyone but mostly occur to women. It is important to note that eating disorders are among the deadliest mental health disorders as they not only affect the mental conditions of individuals, but also the physical. These disorders affect the quality of lives of those affected and are life-threatening.
What causes eating disorders?
Although studies are not conclusive on the main causes of eating disorders, there are a few main reasons that cut across;
- Brain biology
- Societal expectations/cultural expectations
- Personality of the affected individual
Signs that you may be having an eating disorder
Many people who suffer from eating disorders usually don’t think they have a problem until it becomes life altering. There are several ways to know whether you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder. These may include;
- Excessive focus on food
- Skipping meals intentionally
- Withdrawing from your usual social activities
- Worrying and complaining about adding weight
- Eating in secret and lying about eating
- Obsession with diets and exercising
Types of eating disorders
There are several types of eating disorders, some common, some fairly new. They include;
This is characterized by extreme dieting, exercise or starvation. People suffering from this condition have a distorted perception of weight and an unwarranted fear of being overweight. Mostly, people tend to induce vomit or use laxatives to get the food out of their bodies. They tend to also excessively work out and diet in a bid to lose weight. No matter any amount of weight they lose, it doesn’t seem to be enough.
People with anorexia tend to have a thin and weak body frame, have extremely low blood counts, and always suffer from dizziness and constipation among a wide range of physical attributes. For their behavior, they tend to be constantly preoccupied by food, frequently skip meals, lie about eating, cover up their bodies with clothing, denial of hunger and irritability due to hormonal imbalances.
This is a life-threatening condition where an individual binge eats sometimes in secret, and purges to avoid weight gain. They tend to eat large amounts of food and later try to get rid of the excess weight in the wrong manner. Unlike anorexia where an individual is obsessed with food, bulimia is about an individual’s perception of their own self-image. Because of this, bulimia is usually difficult to overcome.
People with bulimia are obsessed with body weight and shape and will do anything to keep fit. They go through abnormal periods of eating large amounts of food in one seating and usually can’t control or stop themselves. They tend to misuse laxatives and dietary supplements in between binges. The severity of bulimia is characterized by how many times an individual purges in a week.
This is where an individual consumes a large amount of food and is unable to control themselves. For binge eaters, over eating is a usual occurrence that happens very often. Individuals vow to stop over eating but are usually unable as they cannot resist the urge to.
Mostly, people with binge-eating habits, tend to eat large amounts of food in an unusual amount of time e.g. two hours. They frequently diet without any weight loss and are embarrassed, depressed and ashamed of their situation.
This is a condition where an individual craves or eats non-food items. These items offer no nutritional value and are usually harmful e.g. clay, dirt, hair, glue, flaking paint, paper etc. This condition usually affects and individual who suffers from intellectual and developmental, sometimes people with autism and rarely in pregnant women.
Pica usually leads to extreme harm as the individual might consume toxic, poisonous and harmful objects. This condition is usually easily detected and can be treated with a few lifestyle changes and therapy.
Other types of eating disorders include;
Probably one of the weirdest eating disorders out there, rumination is when an individual voluntarily regurgitates already eaten food from the stomach and re chews and swallows or spits it out intentionally. Persons who do this do not feel any disgust or repulsion.
Avoidant/restrictive food intake
This is where individuals extremely avoid certain kinds of foods and very picky with what they eat. Due to being selective and having poor feeding habits, these persons tend to have poor nutrition and energy deficiencies.
Other specified feeding or eating disorder
These are disorders that are not yet categorized on their own as they do not fully meet the threshold of normal disorders. Some include purging, night eating syndrome, atypical anorexia etc.
The treatment of eating disorders varies with the symptoms and severity of the condition. The treatment ranges from change of environmental factors, lifestyle changes, nutritional education, therapy and medication.
Most people who use either of the above courses of treatment usually get better and make a full recovery.
Eating disorders are not to be taken lightly as they usually mean that an individual has extreme mental health issues. These conditions usually affect their quality of life and a lot of love, care and understanding should be exercised when dealing with persons with eating disorders. Judging and criticizing people with eating disorders tends to deepen their insecurities and fall deeper into their conditions.