Eating disorders are a complex condition that has to do with unhealthy eating habits, it is a psychological habit that can start with how you think about eating, an obsession with food, body weight, or body shape. Eating disorders can result in serious health consequences, physical and emotional consequences. Most times, eating disorders go beyond ‘eating’ it often manifests as a coping mechanism for emotional and psychological issues that require medical and psychological interventions.
Symptoms of eating disorders vary based on the type of eating disorder an individual has, but general symptoms of eating disorders include; drastic weight loss, complaints about constipation, abdominal pain, and nausea after eating. It also involves excuses to avoid mealtime, fear of gaining weight, rejecting certain foods, excessively exercising, mood swings, chewing food longer than necessary, and fatigue. Other social symptoms include withdrawal from friends, not wanting to eat with people, and eating in secret.
Experts believe that eating disorders are caused by a variety of factors, one of these factors is genetics, and people who have a sibling or parent with eating disorders are prone to also develop an eating disorder. Another cause of eating disorders can be linked to individual personality traits, such as neuroticism, perfectionism, and impulsivity. Biological factors such as changes in brain chemicals can play a role in eating disorders. Experiencing traumatic events like abuse, bullying or significant changes can trigger eating disorders.
There are four (4) major types of eating disorders, which include; Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa, Binge eating disorder, and Avoidant disorder.
- Anorexia Nervosa; people with anorexia often feel they are overweight even when they are not, so they tend to avoid eating to watch their weight, they most times avoid eating certain types of food, and they also restrict their calorie intake. This can also manifest in the form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, in the sense that people with anorexia are constantly preoccupied with the thoughts of food which makes it difficult for them to eat. This is dangerous because it can lead to self-starvation, underweight which can cause several health problems.
- Bulimia Nervosa; people with this kind of disorder often eat large amounts of food in a specific period, and binge eat over a short period to the point of discomfort and painful satisfaction. Afterward, they force themselves to purge, vomit, or exercise excessively to rid themselves of the food and calories, this involves the use of laxatives and other methods to do this. Bulimia can create an imbalance in levels of electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and calcium, which can cause stroke or heart attack.
- Binge Eating Disorder; this is a form of bulimia, people with this disorder often consume an excessive amount of food at once, but in this case, they do not restrict calories or look for ways to compensate for their binges. When binge eating, there is no control over eating, and what they eat, so this can lead to unhealthy and non-nutritious eating which can result in obesity and potential health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Avoidant Eating Disorder; this is also known as restrictive eating disorder in which people are limited to eating or not eating certain foods. People with this disorder may not be interested in eating certain types of food due to color, texture, smell, or taste. Sometimes, they have a fear of choking, getting stomach aches, and vomiting when they eat certain foods. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies due to avoidance of many kinds of food and problems with growth and development especially in children.
Eating disorders can be treated, treatment options vary and are tailored to suit an individual’s needs. Treatment can include psychotherapy which is a form of therapy that helps you understand and change the thinking patterns that drive behavior and emotions. In some cases, medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers can be prescribed to treat disorders and other cases of anxiety that may occur. Nutritional counseling with a dietitian to learn proper eating habits and nutrition can help improve eating habits.