Food is a huge part of our lives. We need it to survive, but it can also be so much more. We can maximize nutrition, enjoy complex flavors, and bond with those around us over a delicious meal. However, sometimes we can develop an unhealthy relationship with food. This unhealthy relationship is known as an eating disorder, and it’s important to understand eating disorders in order to overcome them or to help those around you who may be struggling with one.
What is an Eating Disorder?
An eating disorder is a mental disorder where the patient develops an unhealthy relationship with food, often by overeating or under eating. This relationship is often the result of stress, poor body image, or genetic factors. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), nearly 10 percent of Americans suffer from an eating disorder, and these disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. All genders, races, and sexualities are at risk, so it’s important to be able to recognize the signs of an eating disorder.
Types of Eating Disorders and How to Identify Them
These are the 8 categories of eating disorders recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Each disorder has different symptoms and causes, and all of them can result in harm to the sufferer. The categories and their symptoms include:
1. Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia is one of the most well-known eating disorders. It is characterized by extremely low-calorie intake, often with the goal of losing weight. A person suffering from anorexia will avoid eating in order to lose weight, even if they are already underweight. Because of this, anorexia is most common in younger women and is one of the deadliest mental disorders.
2. Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia is an eating disorder marked by binge eating sessions followed by a purge. A purge can include self-induced vomiting, intense exercise, or extreme dieting. The signs of bulimia nervosa include excessive eating, trips to the bathroom after every meal, bad breath, excessive exercise, or hidden empty containers of food.
3. Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia but without a purge. Someone with binge eating disorder will over-eat, often feeling no self-control, or even humiliation. Afterward, the sufferer will feel excessive guilt or remorse. This often leads to a cycle of emotional binge eating.
Pica is a very recent addition to the list of officially recognized disorders. Someone with pica will often be compelled to eat things that aren’t digestible, or have no nutritional value. For example, a person eating cotton or paper would have Pica.
5. Rumination Disorder
Rumination disorder is a rare eating disorder, where the patient will regurgitate and re-chew food. This is different from acid reflux since it is voluntary.
6. Avoidant Food Intake Disorder
Someone suffering from avoidant food intake disorder is unable to meet their nutritional needs. This can result in malnutrition or weight loss. Unlike with anorexia, patients are not always calorie deficient. Instead, they eat food lacking in nutritional value, and often only stick to a few types of dishes.
7. Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)
People under the category OSFED exhibit some symptoms of an eating disorder, but not all of them. For example, a person meeting all of the symptoms of Anorexia nervosa, but they are at or above normal weight, would be classified under OSFED. These are still serious mental disorders, but usually, require different treatments than the other categories.
8. Unspecified Eating Disorder
Some eating disorders are not officially recognized by the APA but still cause emotional distress. These disorders are often hard to treat since there isn’t as much clinical data on them. With these, it is important to understand health and nutrition as a whole and to seek individualized treatment.
What Causes an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are caused by a variety of factors, which include genetics and social pressure. It is believed that excessive eating disorders like bulimia and binge-eating are often the result of stress. Weight loss disorders like anorexia are usually caused by poor body image and an obsession with beauty. With all eating disorders, genetics play a huge role, with as much as 80% of the risk being genetic, according to ANAD.
Diagnosing and Treating Eating Disorders
Like with many mental disorders, diagnosis and treatments are highly individualized. Diagnosis typically involves an evaluation by a health professional. The evaluation will determine if the patient has exhibited the symptoms of an eating disorder for a sufficient amount of time. Once the diagnosis has been made, treatments will vary by the intensity of the disorder.
According to nationaleatingdisorders.org, treatment can vary from being at home for a stable sufferer of an eating disorder to full-time intensive hospital care for patients with worsening symptoms. There aren’t any medications that are regularly prescribed for eating disorders.
A person who suffers from an eating disorder will undergo different types of therapy. These can include cognitive behavioral therapy, where the patient attempts to treat the symptoms of the eating disorder through correcting unwanted behaviors. Cognitive remediation therapy helps patients to get out of unhealthy thought cycles, while psychodynamic psychotherapy tries to correct the root cause of an eating disorder, like stress.
Body Image and Body Dysmorphia
Body image is a growing concern for people. While it’s perfectly natural to want to feel more attractive, obsession over body image can turn into body dysmorphia. Psychology Today writes that body dysmorphia is a condition common in people suffering from eating disorders. It is characterized from an unrealistic self-image and an unhealthy obsession with body image.
People who suffer from body dysmorphia will often sacrifice health for body image, and usually, don’t notice any progress they make. Instead, they focus on what they dislike about their bodies. It is important to see a therapist for body dysmorphia in order to take a healthy approach to body image and self-love.
12 Tips to Maintain a Healthy Relationship with Food
Aside from treatment from medical professionals, there are several natural ways to manage an eating disorder. By trying to maintain a healthy relationship with food, you can give yourself the foundation for overcoming an eating disorder.
1. Make Sure to Eat a Full, Balanced Diet
Not only will eating a full diet give you a number of health benefits, but it can help your body become resistant to unhealthy urges. If you have trouble with overeating, a full diet can help keep you satisfied – not needing to overeat. Likewise, if you have trouble with not eating enough, a full diet will help you recover from any unhealthy weight loss.
2. Count Your Calories
Keeping track of how much food you consume throughout the day comes with several benefits. First, you can maintain a healthy calorie intake. Second, it’s a good way to measure how much you eat, making it easier to track an eating disorder. This way, you can adjust what you eat if you’re consistently eating too much or too little.
3. Fight Off Unwanted Urges
Eating disorders are often impulsive, especially with binge eating and bulimia. Even though the urge may be powerful, or you may feel helpless, it’s important to try to fight it off. Every time you feel the urge to eat, think about why you’re eating. Is it for sustenance or are you trying to fill a void. Be mindful of the food you consume. By just trying, you can give yourself the courage to take more drastic action, rather than caving in without a fight.
4. Incorporate Exercise into Your Routine
Exercise is already a great thing to incorporate into your routine, but it can be a powerful tool when it comes to your relationship with food. Exercise burns calories, improves self-esteem, and makes you more proactive. By incorporating moderate exercise into your daily routine, you’ll find yourself more resistant to food cravings, and you might improve your body image.
5. Meet with a Nutritionist
Nutritionists can provide unique and individualized consulting about your diet. When fighting an eating disorder, understanding your specific needs from food is an important part of your treatment. A nutritionist can give you the information you need to be able to maintain a healthy relationship with food.
6. Plan Out Your Meals
Most of us might plan out one or two meals a day, and then wing it for the rest. This subjects you to cravings or can make it easy for you to skip meals. By planning your meals ahead, you can ensure that you’re eating the right amount of food, with all of the nutrients you need. Putting more effort into what and when you eat will make your relationship with food stronger.
7. Cook at Home
It can be easy to go grab breakfast on the way to work, or to go out for lunch, or to skip cooking dinner and go out to eat. Unfortunately, going out to eat is usually less healthy, and the portions are much larger than if you were to prepare your own meals and eat at home. By cooking at home, you can control what and how much you eat. An unrelated but added benefit to cooking at home other than nutrition and smaller portions is saving money from not eating out at restaurants.
8. Be Adventurous with Your Food
Often, we get into the habit of turning to the same 2 or 3 dishes to get throughout the week due to stress and lack of time. When you do this, you can become bored with your food, driving you to stop eating as much, or to binge eat on something else later. To fight this, vary your food regularly, and try new dishes frequently.
9. Eat Several Times a Day
Many people eat once or twice a day, leading to either eating too little or overeating in just one meal. When you’re struggling with an eating disorder, it’s important to eat several times a day to keep yourself from becoming more vulnerable. This way, you have more energy to fight your disorder, and you’ll be healthier for it.
10. Never Eat Right Out of the Bag
When you open up a bag of chips for a tasty snack, it’s best to put it on a plate or in a bowl. This is true of any bulk good, where it can be easy to lose track of how much you eat. So with chips, salsa, hummus, or any other bulk food, be sure to avoid eating them right out of the package.
11. Weigh Yourself Frequently
Many of us dread stepping on the scale, but by knowing your weight, you give yourself a clear picture of how much you’re eating. Follow the Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine your healthy weight range. Be mindful of how your weight changes based on the different types of foods you eat. You may be surprised because different types of foods can affect each person differently. If you’re too heavy or too light, you can adjust your regular diet to make sure you’re eating the right types and right amounts of food.
12. Be Honest with Yourself
When we are struggling with something, we often lie to ourselves to cope. It’s important to notice what you’re going through as a genuine struggle and to look at all of your options. If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, you can’t just walk it off. Seek help, and take the steps necessary to begin the healing process.
Overcoming an Eating Disorder
Mental disorders always have a major impact on our lives. Eating disorders are no different, so it’s necessary to understand them and take the steps necessary to overcome them. With more data about these disorders, we can make more accurate judgments on how to handle eating disorders. It takes a lot of work, but eating disorders can be overcome, reducing their impact on your life.