Many individuals who are diagnosed with eating disorders are often severely underweight, but there are also other disorders where people are overweight and in a constant struggle to maintain a healthier weight. There are several types of eating disorders, and they affect both physical and mental health. If the eating disorder is left untreated, the consequences can be severe and sometimes lead to death. In fact, the death rate from eating disorders ranks higher than any other psychiatric illness.
While it is sometimes difficult to recognize if a person is suffering from an eating disorder, there are warning signs. If you feel somebody has an eating disorder—a mother, sister or close friend—it is important to note that the individual may be in denial. People who suffer from eating disorders focus on food, weight and their body shapes all the time. They will go to extremes with the obsession, including starvation, binging and purging, and uncontrollable eating.
Types of Eating Disorders
The following are the most common types of eating disorders.
- Anorexia Nervosa. Because they don’t eat enough, people with anorexia nervosa have a weight that is far too low. They have an extreme fear of gaining weight. Their self-esteem is related to body image, and their obsession with weight causes them to behave in a way that hinders weight gain. A person with anorexia is often unable to understand how serious the situation is.
- Binge Eating Disorder. Individuals who have binge eating disorder often eat very large amounts of food. However, they don’t have the obsession to prevent weight gain. They don’t follow their binges with self-induced vomiting and other harmful ways to lose weight. Many times, they feel out of control during the binge eating, followed by being ashamed and feeling guilty about their behavior. Individuals with the disorder will eat even when they aren’t hungry and to the degree that they’re uncomfortable after eating. They often eat by themselves, because they feel ashamed of their behavior.
- Bulimia Nervosa. Like the person with binge eating disorder, people with bulimia nervosa eat large amounts of foods often. However, they follow these episodes with behaviors to stop weight gain, such as purging. They have a feeling of not being in control, as well as self-esteem that is overly related to their body image.
Causes of Eating Disorders
There are many reasons that individuals develop obsessions with food. Eating disorders are complex and are believed to be caused by biological, psychological and environmental factors.
- Irregular hormone functions.
- Genetics play a role in eating disorders, and much research is being conducted to find out more about their correlation.
- Deficient nutrition.
- Unsatisfied with body image.
- Low self-esteem.
- Dysfunction in family.
- Traumas, including childhood sexual abuse.
- Stress from a transition in life.
- Being in a career, such as modeling and ballet, that requires being thin and losing weight.
- Being in a sport that stresses maintaining a thin body for better performance, such as gymnastics, rowing, wrestling and ballet.
Signs of an Eating Disorder
There are a variety of signs that may help to identify an eating disorder, including:
- Dieting obsessively even though the person is seriously underweight.
- Obsessing about the calories and fat in foods, including being aware of their calorie intake for each meal.
- Weight changes constantly.
- Rituals with food like eating alone, cutting food into tiny morsels and hiding food.
- A significant lack of energy that can signify the diet is too low in calories.
- Thinking about food constantly and ruminating on food choices.
- Disrupted sleep from not eating enough or failing to get nutrients that are essential for good sleep.
- Not eating an entire food group. Each food group has the nutrients that are essential for a balanced diet, and deleting one of them can cause a person to feel hungry.
- Feelings of anxiety, depression and irritability caused by the limited amount of calories.
- Preparing and cooking full-course meals for other people, but not eating any of it.
- Become isolated and refraining from social events, as well as from friends and family. People with eating disorders may schedule their activities around their diet. Sometimes they don’t attend social events because there will be food, and they don’t want to eat.
- Periods of fasting and overeating.
How to Help Somebody with an Eating Disorder
If you’re worried about somebody who you feel has an eating disorder, it is wise to talk to them. Many people with eating disorders are afraid to talk about their struggles and ask for help. Their low self-esteem may make them feel they aren’t entitled to help. Keep in mind that eating disorders worsen without treatment. The following are a few tips to use when approaching a person with an eating disorder.
- Pick a time when you can speak in private and not have any distractions. It is also advisable that the conversation be when the person is calm.
- Don’t lecture or criticize the person with the eating disorder, because it will put them on the defense. Talk about the behaviors you’ve seen and that you’re worried about their health. The main point to convey is that you’re concerned about their health, and you want to help them.
- The person with an eating disorder may deny that he has one and become defensive. It is important for you to stay calm, because the person may become uncomfortable with the conversation.
- If the person resists your help, it may take them a little more time before they want to talk about the disorder. Make sure the person knows that you’ll be available for him when he is ready.
There is Help for the Vicious Cycles of Eating Disorders
If you or somebody close to you has an eating disorder, there is help. The hopelessness, depression and eating disorder behaviors can be unlearned with a willingness to change. Overcoming an eating disorder is twofold—a person has to work to give up the unhealthy eating behaviors and learn to appreciate himself. The person needs to identify who he is beyond the eating habits, negative body image and what the needle on the scale says about weight.
Thriveworks Counseling Conway
At Thriveworks Counseling Conway, we understand the challenges from food, diet and body image causes by eating disorders. Your path to recovery starts when you seek help at Thriveworks, where professionally- licensed and credentialed therapists will work with you on physical and emotional healing, helping you to take the steps to a healthier and more fulfilling life.
Call Thriveworks Counseling in Conway today at 501-404-9737 to set up your first session.