Recognizing Eating Disorders

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week.  An eating disorder in general is any disturbance in an eating pattern or eating behavior that is intended to control body weight, and impairs physical or mental health. Typically an eating disorder presents with abnormal eating patterns, obsessive thoughts about body image or weight, or distorted image of nutrition.  The American Psychiatric Association classifies eating disorder in to three main categories:

  1. Anorexia Nervosa
  2. Bulimia Nervosa
  3. Eating disorders not otherwise specified
    • This category includes newer identified disorders such as anorexia athletica, diabulemia, and binge eating disorder.

Eating disorders can happen to anyone: from elementary school to the elderly and are seen in both males and females. We typically think of models or young teenage girls as the ideal person to develop an eating disorder but anyone can develop a disorder.  Social pressure, weight stigma, bullying, body image, historical trauma, and type 1 diabetes are just some of the risk factors.

There can be severe health consequences if eating disorders are not caught early including cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological, and endocrine. When calories are severely restricted, muscles-including the heart, start to break down. It can cause fertility issues, increase risk of infections and decreased immune system.  Lack of nutrients will cause hair, skin, and nails to become dry and brittle.  Frequent vomiting or use of laxatives can cause irritation of the digestive system.

Eating disorders are not all about food. People with eating disorders tend to have other issues such as perfectionism, denial, impulse control, manipulative behavior, trust issues, power issues, or family/social issues. For this reason, it takes a team approach to help someone with an eating disorder and often psychiatric help has to occur before nutrition therapy starts. Each person will go through stages of recovery and some will recover faster than others but there is always help available to those that need it.

References: ADA Nutrition Care Manual