What you need to know about eating disorders

Female leg stepping weigh scales
(Photos: Envato Elements)
Physical health and mental health frequently intersect, with nutrition and exercise playing a major role in well-being. While both can offer incredible benefits for well-being, they can also be linked to eating disorders when taken to extremes.اضافة اعلان

Food is fundamental to survival, but many people find comfort in food and can associate it with positive feelings or memories beyond just a physical necessity. However, some have a negative relationship with food. Eating disorders come to be when a negative relationship leads to binging, restricting, purging, and body image issues.

What are eating disorders?
Eating disorder is an umbrella term used to describe complex mental health conditions. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it is characterized by a persistent disturbance of eating or eating-related behaviors that results in altered eating behaviors and significantly impairs physical health or psychosocial functioning.

Eating disorders are quite prevalent, and a 2019 study conducted in Jordan by the World Health Organization found a variable prevalence rate of 12–40 percent among adolescents, taking note of the different types of eating disorders.

The DSM-5 outlined six recognized eating disorders discussed below.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder commonly just referred to as anorexia and is the most well-known eating disorder. four important features characterize this eating disorder: restriction of caloric intake, intense fear of weight gain, engaging in behavior that interferes with weight gain, and disturbed self-image.

The main hallmark of anorexia is the belief that the individual is overweight or fat and must lose weight. Typically, this will cause the individual to be severely underweight, but it is not always the case. Although atypical, a person can be normal weight or even overweight and still have anorexia.

Other mental health disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar, anxiety, and depression frequently accompany anorexia. This means that those with anorexia are at a higher risk of suicide. Suicides reported amongst those with anorexia are 12 cases for every 100,000 with anorexia.

Anorexia nervosa is divided into two subtypes: restriction and binge-eating/purging. The binge-eating/purging is characterized by recurrent episodes of excessive eating followed by purging, which can include self-induced vomiting or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas. The restricting type of anorexia does not have periods of excessive eating and instead goes through periods of fasting, dieting, and/or excessive exercise to lose weight.

Bulimia nervosa, or bulimia, is very similar to the binge-eating/purging type of anorexia, where the individual goes through periods of excessive eating followed by purging. The main difference between them is that the periods of binge eating occur regardless.

This brings us to binge-eating disorder, which is characterized by periods of excessive eating without any forms of purging to compensate. Additionally, there are marked levels of distress during these periods.

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder is another type. With this disorder, the individual avoids or has no interest in certain foods, which results in weight loss, dependence on supplements, and a negative impact on psychosocial functioning. This occurs despite food availability and is more closely associated with the sensory characteristics of food than just body image issues.

The last two eating disorders are more uncommon, and an exact prevalence is difficult to obtain. Rumination disorder is the repeated regurgitation of food, either re-chewed, re-swallowed, or spat out. This eating disorder is more commonly seen in those with intellectual disabilities.

Pica is another rare disorder that is more commonly found in those with intellectual disabilities. This disorder is characterized by consuming nonnutritive substances such as dirt, chalk, or hair.

What are the causes of eating disorders?
Eating disorders are complex, and their causes are multifactorial. There are genetic, biological, environmental, and societal factors that can all play a role in developing eating disorders. Many studies have found that people who have a sibling or parent with an eating disorder are at an increased risk of developing one, which suggests a genetic aspect.

Certain personality traits, particularly neuroticism, perfectionism, and impulsivity, are highly linked to eating disorders. Emerging research has also found that an imbalance in brain chemistry might play a role, which has been found in other mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.
A 2019 study conducted in Jordan by the World Health Organization found a variable prevalence rate of 12–40 percent among adolescents, taking note of the different types of eating disorders.
Societal standards were also found to play a role in developing eating disorders since there is pressure to conform to certain beauty standards, which can negatively impact self-image.

How do eating disorders affect well-being?
Eating disorders impact physical and mental health greatly. And since an adequate diet is vital to supporting life, restricting nutrients to the body can be detrimental as it weakens the immune system, damages the skin and hair, and causes poor wound healing; it is also linked to abnormal labs, which show hormone imbalances, low electrolytes, and anemia.

Certain behaviors associated with eating disorders, such as self-induced vomiting, can also cause complications such as ulcers and damage to the teeth. In more severe cases, this can cause multi-organ damage and may result in death.

Eating disorders related to overeating can also have many complications that relate more closely to obesity, such as the increased risk of heart attacks, diabetes, and mortality.

A 2004 study conducted in the UK used a specific health survey that assessed different aspects of well-being, such as physical, emotional, and social well-being. This survey was administered to those with eating disorders, primarily anorexia, and it found that they had more significant impairment of emotional well-being than physical well-being.

Those with eating disorders also reported high levels of depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.

Finding and getting help
Eating disorders impact the physical body, but they should be treated more as a psychiatric issue, which is why treatment relating to eating disorders largely revolves around therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is commonly implemented since it can help address any underlying issues and help reduce or eliminate the behavior associated with eating disorders. Depending on the case, some medications were also found to help, such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics.

Additionally, combining CBT with nutritional counseling may significantly improve your odds of a better outcome, as found by a 2021 study. Finding the right healthcare professional for you may be difficult, especially in Jordan. Fortunately, some online resources may help, and one such online platform is Doctor Nafsi.

Doctor Nafsi allows you to connect with Arab therapists who are qualified in various fields. It is easily accessible and can be done from the comfort of your home. Additionally, they allow for free consultations to see if their programs are a right fit for you.

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