Eating disorders are frightening; they neither happen overnight nor are they a lifestyle choice of the individual. Rather, they’re defined as “serious and often fatal illnesses that are associated with severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions,” according to the Nation Institute on Mental Health. By being hyper-focused on weight, food and even body shape/image, an eating disorder can slowly begin to form, negatively transforming one’s relationship with food, exercise and one’s own body.
The diagnosis of an eating disorder is equally frightening, and one that requires the input of and treatment from a medical professional. Whereas, it’s easy to diagnose oneself with a cold if you show symptoms like coughing or a runny nose, diagnosing an eating disorder is not as simple. Because ED’s can be life-threatening and require intensive treatment and therapy, eating disorders should not be self-diagnosed.
Who develops an eating disorder?
Put in the simplest of terms, eating disorders don’t discriminate. Even though they are more common in adolescents, adults can develop them as well. While stereotypically it might seem that women and girls are more predisposed to them, men can and do, struggle with eating disorders. In fact, 9% of the US population in total, that is, 28.8 million Americans struggle with an eating disorder.
As with all mental disorders, certain risk factors play a part in an eating disorder. While there are risk factors associated with each specific eating disorder, two general risk factors commonly play a role.
- Mental health – conditions like depression, anxiety, problems with self-esteem, perfectionism, peer pressure or bullying and childhood trauma like sexual abuse can all contribute to eating disorder development.
- Body image – being teased about or having negative/critical attention drawn to one’s weight or physical appearance, being fixated on thinness, or experiencing overall dissatisfaction with one’s physicality can lead to an eating disorder.
It’s important to note that having one or more of these risk factors does not inherently mean you have an eating disorder. If you or someone you know experiences one or more risk factors and fears the possibility of an ED, reach out to a trusted medical professional or counseling service like Seeds of Hope right away.
What signs and symptoms indicate an eating disorder?
As an eating disorder develops, certain signs might come to light that contributes to the diagnosis of an eating disorder. These signs are mostly specific to certain types of eating disorders.
- Signs of anorexia nervosa
- Those with anorexia tend to be incredibly underweight even if they don’t perceive themselves to be.
- They develop restrictive modes of eating.
- Their violent fear of gaining weight leads to behaviors that prohibit weight gain, such as calorie counting, limiting food intake, inducing vomiting after eating, abusing laxatives or diuretics or exercising excessively.
- Bodyweight and shape play a role in self-esteem and body image.
- They constantly are plagued by the need to be thin and lose weight even if they are already very thin.
- Signs of bulimia nervosa
- Recurring binging episodes where the individual feels little control/fails to stop eating until they’re painfully full, followed by unhealthy purging behaviors to prevent weight gain
- Fear of gaining weight, even though those with bulimia nervosa tend to maintain an average weight
- Self-esteem is dictated by body image
- Signs of binge eating disorder
- Secretly eating large amounts of food until they’re painfully full, regardless of actual hunger
- Lacking control over the act of binging, but feeling corresponding guilt, shame or disgust in regards to the behavior of binge eating
- Not following the act of binge eating with some form of purging behavior, thereby leading to obesity
As with the risk factors, the signs of these, and other eating disorders do not immediately diagnose an ED.
What to do if you recognize eating disorder signs
If you have cause to suspect an eating disorder within yourself or believe a loved one is struggling, don’t waste time. While you can’t diagnose an eating disorder, you can be perceptive of the signs and make appropriate judgment calls of when it’s time to get someone professionally and medically involved.
Eating disorders are treatable and recovery is possible. However, it’s important to get the right people to help. Medical doctors and trained therapists provide crucial tools towards recovery through treatment programs designed not only to heal eating disorders but help heal you, body, mind and soul. If you fear the possibility of an eating disorder and desire to journey down the road to recovery, reach out to Seeds of Hope today at 610-644-6464.