Everything You Need To Know About Eating Disorders
People of every body size, gender, or age can struggle with their relationship with food
June 5, 2023
Conditions such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder keep people from maintaining a healthy weight or from having a healthy relationship with food. While often assumed to be just a phase, eating disorders can have deadly outcomes if not properly addressed.
It is important to note that eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice. Those who have these conditions are not making a conscious decision to treat their bodies poorly. They aren’t “over-dieting” or “being uptight.” People with eating disorders are mentally and physically unwell and need medical and/or mental health assistance to move toward recovery.
Keep Reading To Learn
- The truth about eating disorders
- How to recognize symptoms of eating disorders in yourself or loved ones
- How to successfully manage and treat eating disorders
What Is an Eating Disorder?
An eating disorder is a condition in which a person cannot maintain a balanced and healthy relationship with food. Depending on the condition, they may not eat enough, eat too much, or overly manage the calories they take in or put out.
People with eating disorders may also try to “control” their food, overexercise, develop rituals surrounding mealtimes, or refuse to eat with others. These are just a few examples of the ways eating disorders can manifest.
The overarching image of an eating disorder is an obsession with weight and appearance above health. People with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and other eating disorders come to see themselves as physically unappealing in ways that do not reflect reality.
Types of Eating Disorders
There are four main types of eating disorders.
Perhaps the best-known eating disorder, anorexia is a condition involving extreme weight loss. Due to distorted body image, people struggling with anorexia eat far less than they should to remain in good health. They are generally underweight by all metrics: age, stature, body type, and height.
People with anorexia primarily lose weight through extreme calorie restriction. They skip meals, eat far too little, and move food around on their plate rather than consuming it. Some people with anorexia may also purge after meals.
Anorexia is not exclusively related to people with thin bodies. While anorexia typically manifests as extreme weight loss, some people with larger bodies also struggle from it. Just because some people have larger frames or body mass indices does not mean they do not restrict calories. They may still be malnourished, even if they do not look like it.
The best way to identify whether a person is struggling with anorexia is to look for common signs of the condition rather than assuming anything based on body weight.
Characteristics of people with anorexia nervosa include but are not limited to the following behavioral and physical symptoms.
- Making frequent comments about feeling fat, overweight, unattractively shaped, or ugly
- Voicing common complaints of abdominal pain, gastric distress, feeling cold, poor sleep, or anxiety
- Refusing to eat certain foods, exhibiting concerns about eating in public, or avoiding making plans with others that involve food
- Inability to maintain a healthy body weight
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Developing dry skin, dry and brittle nails, and brittle or thinning hair
- Growing fine hair, called lanugo, all over the body
- Healing unusually slowly from wounds, or getting sick easily and not recovering quickly
It is important to note that these symptoms are only potentially present. You should not assume someone doesn’t have an eating disorder just because these symptoms are not present or visible. It is possible, or even likely, that the person may be hiding some behaviors.
Just as eating disorders are not always obvious to the eye, they are also missed by lab tests. Although our bodies are excellent at maintaining balance even without food, cardiac arrest and electrolyte imbalances can strike without warning in people with anorexia and can prove fatal.
It is worth noting that men are more likely to die from anorexia than women. This is mainly because it is often assumed that men don’t have eating disorders, so recognition is less common. This often means that the condition is fairly advanced by the time it is addressed.