Eating disorders are characterized by preoccupations with weight, body image issues, and a lack of control over the food that leads to restrictive eating patterns, binging, and excessive exercise. Individuals struggling with long-term eating disorders often suffer from physical symptoms and related medical conditions due to nutritional deficiencies from the lack of a balanced diet. Eating disorders are often a mental cage for sufferers and exist in conjunction with other mental health issues such as anxiety disorder.
Though there are a number of different kinds of eating disorders, there are a few common types. Most people who have a dysfunctional relationship with eating and their bodies have a disorder that falls into one of the following categories: anorexia, binge eating, bulimia and other eating disorders.
Severely cutting calories by eating very, very little defines the disorder anorexia nervosa. Anorexia Nervosa is often characterized by an intense fear of weight gain that leads to restrictive food intake and often presents as dramatic weight loss in the sufferer. The goal is always extreme weight loss or maintenance of a dangerously low weight, and the repercussions can be deadly. Those who live with anorexia for a long period of time will:
- Have a body mass index that is unhealthy for their body type, height or activity level
- Fear “getting fat” or being viewed as overweight
- Have a distorted body image where they still see themselves as fat even if they are underweight
- Not have their menstrual cycle (e.g. no monthly period or irregular periods)
- Suffer from hair loss, brittle hair, or damaged and dry skin
- Be intensely focused on caloric intake, quantities of food intake, body shape, and weight
Bulimia, or bulimia nervosa, is defined by eating large amounts of food, often in secret, and then purging. Purging may happen through vomiting, laxative use, or extreme exercise. Those who are living with bulimia may:
- Recurrent episodes of bingeing and purging
- Eat compulsively when they binge and eat well beyond the point of comfort
- Live in a cycle of bingeing followed by fasting
- Diet constantly
- Obsess over their body weight, how they look, and suffer from poor body image
- Be of average body weight (normal weight) or overweight
- People with bulimia nervosa may also suffer from tooth decay, erosion of tooth enamel, and acid reflux as a consequence of throwing up.
Compulsive overeating or binge eating disorder is the habit of eating well beyond the point of fullness compulsively. If a person regularly binges at least once a week for three months, they may have a binge eating disorder. Those who struggle with binge eating disorder:
- May be overweight or obese
- Feel a loss of control when they binge
- Attempt to diet frequently
- Attempt to fast after bingeing
- Often struggle with depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation
OTHER EATING DISORDERS
All other types of eating disorders fall into the last category. Every year, medical professionals identify new versions of eating disorders that have the goal of losing weight but often just result in serious malnutrition and medical complications. Some include:
- Extreme or excessive exercise
- Restrictive diets used solely to lose weight (e.g. veganism, raw foods, etc.)
- Late night binge eating
- Diet pill or stimulant addiction with the purpose of speeding up metabolism in order to lose weight
What Causes Eating Disorders?
Experts have long been studying the complex nature of eating disorders and have identified several contributing risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing one. One such factor is genetics. It appears that individuals with a family history of eating disorders are more susceptible to developing one themselves.
Personality traits also play a role. Neuroticism, perfectionism, and impulsivity are three traits that have been linked to a higher risk of developing an eating disorder. These traits can create a sense of pressure and an unhealthy level of self-criticism that can lead to disordered eating habits.
In addition, societal pressures cannot be ignored. Perceived pressures to conform to unrealistic beauty standards and cultural preferences for thinness can fuel the development of eating disorders. The constant exposure to media promoting these ideals only exacerbates the problem.
Recently, experts have also been investigating the role of brain structure and biology in the development of eating disorders. Chemical imbalances in the brain, particularly in the levels of serotonin and dopamine, may be contributing factors. However, further studies are necessary to draw conclusive evidence.
It is clear that eating disorders are complex issues with multiple contributing factors. Understanding these factors is crucial in developing effective treatments and prevention methods.
Eating disorders of any kind cause extreme mental and physical health problems that can last a lifetime. If you are living with issues that you believe may be caused by an eating disorder, contact us at Futures of Palm Beach today to discuss how we can help you change the outlook for your life.