Food is unlike any other substance with which one might have an addiction, disorder, or unhealthy relationship. Food serves as nourishment, sustenance and is unequivocally necessary for life itself. As such, eating disorders cannot be remedied through abstinence, but must instead be addressed head on.
Most of us have have had moments or even long periods of time in which we ate too much, too little, or consumed foods that were just not good for us. Anyone who overeats or undereats from time to time however, does not necessarily have an eating disorder. Sadly however, travelling the slippery slope from bad habits to eating disorders can easily be achieved. It is when these disordered behaviors become disruptive and interfere with one’s health, that they extend way past the boundaries of bad eating habits.
Eating disorders are about more than just being unhealthy or overly focused on dieting, weight loss, or body image. In fact, in order to properly address and treat them, it is vital that they be understood as a type of mental illness with high rates of mortality . While the overindulgence, abstention, or purging of food is the way in which these illnesses manifest, they are concerned with much more than food itself.
There are a number of factors that contribute to the development of eating disorders. According to Dr. T. Insel who served as the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health from 2002 to 2015, there is clinical evidence that indicates that certain types of eating disorders are both hereditary and biologically based.
Though men suffer with distorted body image as well as body dysmorphia, women are disproportionately diagnosed with eating disorders. It is theorized that this is because of societal pressures on women to look a certain way. Additionally, women tend to engage in a preponderance of diets which is also linked to higher rates of eating disorders.
Other risk factors for eating disorders include self imposed perfectionism, anxiety, inflexibility, trauma, social isolation, loneliness, excessive exposure to print and social media, and being made fun of or bullied for one’s size. Rather than directing one’s frustrations, anger, and pain towards the attacks, it seems that individuals who engage in eating disorders choose, in so many words, to inflict even more pain upon themselves.
Types of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders can take on varying forms of obsession, perfectionism, and the unshakeable desire to “look better.” Having control over one’s body manifests differently for many.
Anorexia Nervosa is marked by extreme food restriction, a dogged determination to lose weight even in the face of emaciation, excessive exercise, and the deterioration of one’s physical and emotional health. As the deadliest of all eating disorders and psychiatric conditions, anorexia nervosa remains near impossible to treat. While others can see the obvious signs of food deprivation, starvation, lack of energy, and disrupted physiological functioning in the anorexic, the person with the disease maintains that they need to lose more weight, and will stop at nothing to achieve their misperceived, warped, often deadly weight goals. Simply put, for those with this disease there is no such thing as being thin enough.
Similar to those with anorexia, people with bulimia avoid gaining weight at all costs. Rather than restricting calories, people with bulimia employ a methods to cover or hide just how disordered their eating is. Bulimics eat far more than what most others can or will, and then compensate for their indulgences by forcing themselves to vomit, and purge the contents of their stomach through the use and abuse of laxatives, diuretics, or weight loss drugs.
Binge Eating Disorder
The inability to restrict how much one consumes at any given time, despite feeling satiated or uncomfortably full, marks the presence of binge eating disorder, or BED. If binges occur at least biweekly for six months or longer, binge eating is said to meet the criteria for an eating disorder. Binge eaters overindulge due to anxiety, a desire to numb their pain (much like an alcoholic does with beer or liquor), and depression, amongst other triggers. Because there is seemingly never enough food to heal what ails them, binge eaters will often stockpile food so there is always (the illusion of) enough.
Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED)
Pathological eating patterns that meet partial criteria for some eating disorders but not all, were once classified as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or EDNOS. Within the last 5 years, EDNOS was renamed Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders, or OSFED. This diagnosis encompases several subcategories of eating disorders including, atypical anorexia, bulimia nervosa, purging disorder, and night eating syndrome, just to name a few.
When It is Time to Seek Treatment
Eating disorders have reached dangerously critical levels that affect public health and the welfare of individuals worldwide. Because eating disorders are in fact a mental illness, we must evaluate the ways in which we conduct ourselves, choosing behaviors that alleviate, rather than exacerbate, the tensions and stresses we face. We must maintain a conviction to understanding eating disorders and their prevalence on individual as well as communal levels.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder and wants to safely and effectively address the factors that may be contributing to this disease, contact Dr. Shahen Kurestian, DC of Body Systems Wellness in Glendale, California.