Eating Disorders

What's an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are abnormal patterns of eating and exercising that severely interfere with your everyday life. Eating disorders are not choices, but serious biologically influenced illnesses. Many people with eating disorders look healthy, yet may be extremely ill.

Eating disorders carry an increased risk for medical complications. The physical impact of an eating disorder can be significant. It affects the digestion, your bones, skin, teeth, and heart’s functioning. It may also affect the mental and emotional health leading to suicide.

Who is at risk for an eating disorder?

Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, body shapes and weights, and socioeconomic statuses. Eating disorders typically appear during the teen years or young adulthood. Though women more frequently experience symptoms, men are also at risk. With some men, however, there may be a hyper focus on gaining muscle size rather than losing weight.

Some other things that may make you more at risk of developing an eating disorder are: ​

  • having feelings of low self-esteem or worthlessness
  • living in a western culture in which being thin is considered the ideal body shape
  • living in an urban area
  • participating in activities in which body image is a concern (e.g. professional or competitive dancing, gymnastics or fashion modelling)
  • having a history of strict dieting and body dissatisfaction
  • having lived in an environment in which leanness or obesity has been a concern
  • experiencing depression or loneliness
  • being a perfectionist, or impulsive, or having difficulty managing emotions
  • migrating from a developing country to a western culture
  • experiencing stressful life changes (e.g. leaving home to go to university, a relationship breakup or the physical bodily changes of puberty)
  • having experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

Why eating disorders occur?

There isn't just one simple reason. Researchers think that eating disorders happen because of a combination of factors. These factors can be biological (the way your brain works), genetic (familial), psychological (how you think), social (your relationships with other people) or cultural (the customs and values of the people around you).

What are the types of eating disorders?

There are many types of eating disorders, but the three most common diagnoses are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder

How can you know if a friend or family member has an eating disorder?

An eating disorder diagnosis is a health crisis that disrupts personal and family functioning. Obsessions with food, body weight, and shape may signal an eating disorder.

Only a physician or mental health professional can give a diagnosis, but here are some signs you may observe if your loved one is struggling with eating habits.

  • Eating in secret or leaving meals to go to the bathroom
  • Expressing guilt about eating habits
  • Constantly talking about weight or losing weight
  • Being extremely focused on eating healthy
  • Consistently skipping meals
  • Exercising excessively
  • Worrying too much about how you look & Frequently checking the mirror or scale
  • Using dietary supplements or laxatives

What can you do to protect your family member or friend from unhealthy eating habits?

Whether they realize it or not, you as a family or friend have a significant amount of influence over their behavior. While it’s important to encourage them to eat healthy foods, you shouldn’t talk excessively about dieting or negatively about your own body image in front of them.

What treatment options are available?

Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Early detection and intervention are important. There are multiple treatment options for eating disorders, depending on the nature and severity of the symptoms. Transition involves learning how to be healthy without overdoing it.

Most treatment recommendations however, include some type of psychotherapy (Behavioral or family therapy) and nutrition education.

While no medication can cure an eating disorder, but some medicines can help with stress and symptoms that promote unhealthy eating habits.

Symptoms of eating disorders

These are some of the early symptoms of eating disorders:

  • afraid of putting on weight, or weighing yourself all the time
  • thinking about food all the time, or feeling anxious at meal times
  • restricting how much food you eat
  • overeating uncontrollably
  • feeling out of control around food
  • hoarding food to binge on later
  • you make yourself vomit after eating
  • you don’t like eating around other people
  • lie about what you eat or how much you eat
  • feeling cold all the time, weak or lightheaded
  • for girls and women, your periods have stopped, or have not begun by age 16.

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