Bad news on phone. Unhappy middle-aged woman turns away from her mobile phone. Desperate overweight woman received a message from her therapist.
Published On: Jun 7, 2024|Categories: Eating Disorder Information, Nutrition & Health|

Food is a uniquely vital component of our lives here on earth. It keeps our body’s systems functioning as needed, gives us the energy to get through the day, and even releases a little dopamine when we eat something truly delightful to our taste buds. 

Unfortunately, food does not always provide the nutritional requirements our body needs and certain circumstances lead to unhealthy relationships with food. This may lead to physical health complications like obesity, or it may lead to mental health concerns such as eating disorders

But are they the same?

What is obesity? 

Many of us are familiar with the term obesity – we understand it to be someone who has a high weight that is either the result of health complications or is the leading cause of various health complications. 

According to the World Health Organization, “Obesity is a chronic complex disease defined by excessive fat deposits that can impair health. It can lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, affect bone health and reproduction, and increase the risk of certain cancers. Obesity influences the quality of life, such as sleeping or moving.”

Obesity is often caused by an imbalance of exercise and caloric intake, where insufficient exercise balances the amount of food/drink consumed. Diets high in sugar, fats and carbohydrates can further exacerbate this condition, as lack of physical activity causes the body to store these large, unhealthy amounts within the body. 

“In most cases, obesity is a multifactorial disease due to obesogenic environments, psycho-social factors, and genetic variants. In a subgroup of patients, single major etiological factors can be identified (medications, diseases, immobilization, iatrogenic procedures, monogenic disease/genetic syndrome).”

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are behavioral conditions characterized by severe and persistent disturbance in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions. They can be very serious conditions affecting physical, psychological and social function. Types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, other specified feeding and eating disorder, pica and rumination disorder.”

Due to several causes, including potential genetic factors, environmental situations and immense pressure from cultural beauty standards, to name a few, countless men and women find themselves battling eating disorders and overall disordered eating habits to achieve these unrealistic expectations of weight and beauty. 

Those who battle obesity, whether due to health complications, poor nutrition or challenges with establishing healthy exercise routines, may find it exceptionally difficult to accept their appearance. To address their anxieties on the matter, they may pursue diet trends or strict eating habits – this may, in turn, lead to behaviors most commonly known as symptoms of eating disorders. 

Is obesity an eating disorder?

Because obesity is not listed in the section on Feeding and Eating Disorders in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), it is technically not considered an eating disorder. However, obesity has been connected to mental health disorders, including eating disorders. 

[W]omen with obesity tend to report worse mental health than women without obesity.… One factor that can be detrimental to the mental health of individuals with obesity is exposure to well-documented discriminatory attitudes and behaviors in different areas, such as employment, education and healthcare. Additionally, discrimination against individuals with higher body mass index (BMI) can be particularly problematic because it can induce strong dissatisfaction with one’s body weight and/or shape, which is a risk factor for the development of comorbid eating disorder behaviors.”

Because of the dissatisfaction many people with obesity have with their physical appearance, it is not uncommon for them to engage in disordered eating behaviors to compensate for their weight/lose weight quickly. Laxative and diuretic use, induced vomiting, over-exercising, and restrictive eating habits are commonly seen among those with obesity. 

There are certain common stereotypes of eating disorders and obesity that many individuals may believe to be true but are far from the experience of those facing obesity-induced eating disorders. 

For example, anorexia nervosa (highly restrictive eating habits) is one of the more commonly seen eating disorders among individuals with obesity, as they tend to pursue eating habits that offer the possibility of reducing weight quickly. Binge-eating disorder, too, where purging habits follow the practice of eating large amounts, is commonly treated in individuals with a higher weight. 

While the desire to attain a healthy weight is good and important, it is more important to achieve this goal healthily, considering the importance of good coping mechanisms and balanced nutritional intake.

Treatment for eating disorders 

If you or a loved one are battling the challenges of an eating disorder, or have noticed symptoms of disordered eating in your life and have been unable to manage them on your own, Seeds of Hope is here to help. Your goal for healthy living and balanced eating can become a reality with holistic treatment modalities and personalized plans. 

To speak with a counselor today, call Seeds of Hope at 610-644-6464 to learn more about our programs online

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