In Health

With World Eating Disorders Action Day fast approaching it is important to understand what Eating Disorders are, and how they have a significant impact on someone’s life.

Taking the first step towards help can be challenging, as the individual with the eating disorder may feel stressed, nervous, anxious, ashamed, embarrassed or scared, while others may still be in denial about their disorder. The earlier the problem is diagnosed and treatment begins, the less the severity, duration and impact the disorder has on the person’s life.

What Causes Eating Disorders

Certain factors and predisposed personality traits may factor into an individual developing an eating disorder. Many people with eating disorders suffer from low self-esteem, feelings of helplessness and intense dissatisfaction with the way they look. Outside factors may also cause eating disorders, for example: teasing and bullying by another individual/s, participating in a sport or activity that emphasises a certain body shape or weight, like gymnastics or ballet, negative emotions or traumas that the individual feels they cannot control, so they redirect that feeling of control to something they can monitor, like their weight, or eating.

Eating disorders come in many forms and affect around 4% of the Australian Population, which is close to 1 million people. They affect people from all ages, genders, ethnicities, and socio-economic groups. They also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. As defined by the Butterfly Foundation for Eating Disorders, “Body image is the perception that a person has of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that result from that perception.”

Types Of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can be defined in several different types of disorders:

Disordered Eating and Dieting

This is the disturbed and unhealthy eating patterns that include restrictive dieting, compulsive eating, skipping meals, and extreme calorie counting. These symptoms are the most common indicator of an eating disorder. Furthermore, disordered eating has been linked to a reduced ability to cope with stressful situations. There is also an increased incidence of suicidal thoughts and behaviours in adolescents linked to disordered eating.

Anorexia Nervosa

This is the restriction of diet and excessive exercise that stems from a form of extreme self-controlling that may be linked to other areas of someone’s life that they feel they cannot control, like one’s inability to express emotions relating to stress, anxiety, or depressions. In women and girls with anorexia, it is often in a bid to achieve a culturally constructed ideal of “thin is beautiful”, whereas men may over exercise and control their diet to achieve the “ideal” muscular body.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia can be characterised by excessive eating then actions that they see as “compensation”. People with bulimia place an excessive emphasis on body shape or weight in their self-evaluation. The behaviours linked to bulimia is more compulsive and uncontrollable, however these behaviours are often hard to detect and therefore bulimia can go untreated for a long period of time.

Binge Eating

people who binge eat will not use the compensatory behaviour like people with bulimia, such as self-induced vomiting and over-exercising. Many people who suffer from binge eating disorder are overweight or obese.

OSFED

Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders may present with many of the symptoms of the other eating disorders but not the full criteria. Around 30% of people seeking treatment for an eating disorder have OSFED and is the most common eating disorder diagnosed for adults as well are adolescent, and affects both males and females.

Importance Of Nutrition And The Effects Of Malnutrition

Eating disorders can be treated, and a healthy weight can be restored. The sooner these disorders are diagnosed and treated, the better the outcomes are likely to be. Because of their complexity, eating disorders require a comprehensive treatment plan involving medical care and monitoring, professional interventions, nutritional counselling, and, when appropriate, medication management. Eating disorders can have severely destructive and potentially lethal effects on the body, such as:

  • weakening of bones
  • cardiovascular damage
  • growth and developmental problems
  • occupational or academic problems
  • permanent organ damage or failure
  • fatality
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