National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is the last week of February. The goal of this week is to raise awareness and educate people on eating disorders.
In the United States, 9% of the population (that’s 28 million Americans) will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. While eating disorders often affect teens and young adults, people of any age or gender can suffer from an eating disorder. In fact, four out of ten Americans have either had or know some who has had an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are a complex topic and can be difficult to understand. The complexity arises partially from the varying types of eating disorders and how signs of an eating disorder can hide in plain sight.
This article will discuss signs of an eating disorder, eating disorder statistics, types of eating disorders, and eating disorder treatment.
What Are Eating Disorders?
Disordered eating encompasses a wide variety of disorders surrounding eating and exercise. Some disorders are characterized by overeating, others by a fixation on types of food, others by excessive exercise or laxative use. Typically, eating disorders cause a patient to feel extreme distress about their body.
However, unlike common stereotypes, having an eating disorder does not necessarily mean someone will look underweight. In fact, less than 6% of people with eating disorders are considered medically underweight. This is one of the reasons eating disorders can be hard to identify.
Eating disorders are classified as mental illnesses and can have serious health effects if not treated. Though different disorders have different symptoms, they often have overlapping symptoms, and people often suffer from more than one type of eating disorder.
Below we will discuss three common eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.
What is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia Nervosa is a form of eating disorder where the sufferer restricts the amount of food or calories they consume each day. Men and women who struggle with anorexia fear gaining weight, even if it keeps them at an unhealthy weight.
There are many signs to watch out for with anorexia. Dramatic and rapid weight loss is a clear sign of anorexia, but not all anorexia sufferers will lose weight rapidly. It is possible to be medically categorized as overweight and suffer from anorexia.
Other signs to watch out for are hair loss or thinning dry skin and brittle fingernails that may have a bluish tint. These symptoms are caused by a lack of nutrients due to calorie restrictions.
There are some behavior signs to look out for as well. Not eating, restrictive calorie counting, creating restrictive food rules, and obsessing over body and bodyweight can all be signs of anorexia.
While many people with anorexia make a full recovery, anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder. And long term anorexia sufferers can experience serious health effects, even after recovery.
Long-term restriction of calories and nutrition can cause heart problems, loss of bone calcium, hormone imbalances, anemia, organ failure, and infertility. If you or someone you know is suffering from anorexia, it is vital to seek help immediately.
What is Bulimia Nervosa?
Bulimia is a form of eating disorder characterized by binge eating and purging calories. Purging calories can be from self-induced vomiting, laxative use, or excessive exercise.
Like people who suffer from anorexia, people who are bulimic are fearful of gaining weight. They often have an obsession with their body and with food.
Bulimics will typically eat large amounts of food and then purge to avoid gaining weight. Often during binges, the foods will be calorie-dense and what disordered eating sufferers consider “bad foods,” i.e., junk food.
Bulimics will typically binge and purge in private and are often a normal body weight. But there are several signs to watch out for if you suspect someone you know is bulimic. People who induce vomiting may have sores on their knuckles from repeated purging. Teeth and gums may also be damaged from stomach acidity, and their face and cheeks may look swollen.
Behavioral symptoms of bulimia include a lack of impulse control around food, restrictive eating, eating in private, visiting the restroom soon after eating, and an obsession with weight and food.
Untreated, short-term effects of bulimia are severe dehydration, irregular heartbeat, electrolyte imbalance, gastrointestinal problems, and organ failure. In the long term, bulimia can cause diabetes, brittle bones, and infertility.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is an eating disorder where a person loses the ability to control the amount of food they eat. They typically eat large amounts of food in one sitting.
The biggest marker for binge eating disorder is a tendency to eat more than a normal amount of food regularly. People who suffer from binge eating disorder often eat rapidly until they are uncomfortably full.
Often, binge eating disorder sufferers will eat in private as they feel shame about the amount and types of food they eat. People with binge eating disorder typically suffer from low self-esteem and often try dieting or exercise to lose weight.
Individual instances of overeating are not characterized as a binge eating disorder. The illness is only diagnosed when binge eating reoccurs consistently over an extended period of time. Binge eating disorder can lead to obesity and its associated ailments like heart disease and hypertension.
Eating Disorder Stigma
Many people have preconceived notions about people who struggle with eating disorders. As a result, people recovering from eating disorders face stigma in their recovery and treatment. Often, people struggling with disordered eating don’t seek help because they are ashamed or fear criticism.
One stigma surrounding eating disorders is that they are a choice. It’s important to remember that eating disorders are a mental illness like any other and nothing to be ashamed of. Eating disorders are caused by a host of genetic and environmental factors and absolutely not a choice for people suffering from disordered eating.
To help dismantle the stigma about eating disorders, it’s important to educate people on what they really are and deconstruct harmful stereotypes about disordered eating.
Eating Disorders Among Men
Perhaps one of the biggest myths about eating disorders is that they only occur in women. Current statistics show more women than men suffer from eating disorders, but studies have proven that eating disorders are underdiagnosed in men.
Because disordered eating is stereotypically considered an illness that affects women, family, friends, and even doctors often overlook signs of eating disorders in men. And men often feel uncomfortable seeking treatment because of the potential stigma.
Some studies have shown that, actually, one in three men suffers from an eating disorder. Knowing this information and educating people on how eating disorders affect men can help end the stigma and encourage more men to seek help with their disordered eating.
Eating Disorder Treatment
There are several different treatment options for eating disorders, including both inpatient and outpatient services. Some patients choose to see a doctor or eating disorder coach regularly, while others may stay in an inpatient facility for a set amount of time.
Eating disorder treatment is multifaceted. It combines therapies from many medical fields, including psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, and medical doctors. And eating disorder treatments vary, depending on the type and severity of the eating disorder.
A medical professional can help eating disorder sufferers work on underlying mental health issues while simultaneously cultivating a healthy relationship with food, nutrition, and body image.
The important thing to remember is that eating disorder treatment is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight, but with the right support, full recovery is possible.
Education, Understanding, and Support for Eating Disorders
There are many different signs of an eating disorder, and they can present in different ways in each individual. If you identify with the symptoms in this article, or you recognize signs or symptoms in a loved one, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. A medical professional can make a diagnosis and determine the next steps to take for treatment and recovery.
At CityHealth Urgent Care, our team of medical professionals is here to support you. We recognize eating disorders are difficult to discuss, and our patient-centered approach means we will work with you every step of the way to ensure you are as comfortable as possible.
If you have questions or concerns for yourself or a loved one, contact CityHealth Urgent Care. You can schedule an appointment online at our San Leandro or Oakland location or schedule a virtual visit and talk to a medical professional from the comfort of your own home.