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The Three Most Common Eating Disorders & Their Symptoms


shutterstock_458798176Eating disorders are much more complex than simply over or under-eating. They come with a diverse set of symptoms and conditions unique to each patient, rising from a variety of biological factors, family dynamics and social pressures of their peer group or chosen profession. Additionally, one’s own personality traits such as addiction, perfectionism or obsessiveness can contribute to falling into an eating disorder. While the most common demographic for eating disorders is young women, anyone from older adults to Olympic athletes can develop an unhealthy relationship with food.

What defines an eating disorder?

Eating disorders can manifest in many different forms. The three most common that we will explore include:

  • Anorexia Nervosa – Voluntary starvation and fasting, abstaining from food as much as possible.
  • Bulimia Nervosa – Binge-eating followed by induced vomiting or other purging methods to rid the body of what was eaten.
  • Binge-Eating Disorder – Frequent episodes of eating excessive volumes of food without purging.

Anorexia Nervosa

shutterstock_139188881This condition often occurs due to a distorted perceptions of body image and social pressures to look a certain way. An individual who suffers from this may believe and see themselves as fat or obese, even after starving themselves to a dangerously low body weight. In many cases this is paired with depression or perfectionist personalities. Many will fail to see the health complications they are at risk for or are already suffering from. This delusion about their body image and appearance leads to the self-destructive behaviour of Anorexia. In extreme cases this leads to one starving themselves to the point of needing emergency care. Therapy can often be an effective treatment option, but those unreceptive to it may be hospitalized and subject to force feeding when the condition becomes life threatening.

But there is hope for those suffering from Anorexia. Full recovery is possible when provided with time and support. The unique aspect Anorexia recovery is often those in need of treatment convince themselves that they are in fact healthy, or express happiness and satisfaction with their condition. They will defend their behaviour and value it as an important part of who they are. They will only see benefits of the self-destructive behaviour such as saving money or the self-confidence from compliments or sexual attention. But these quickly disappear once the thin appearance they achieved quickly becomes unhealthy in appearance. Like a drug addiction, someone will chase the good feelings they had in the “honeymoon” stages of Anorexia when the negative health effects were not as strong.

If you or someone you know is suffering, the road to recovery begins with a simple step: Begin eating more, in small steps. It may take months, years, or sometimes decades before the desire to improve becomes strong enough to act upon, but know you can recover. Not only can you recover, you can have a healthy relationship with food with nutritional guidance, cognitive-behavioural therapy from professionals, and support from family members.

Bulimia Nervosa

shutterstock_305364764Bulimia is often characterized as simply someone who vomits after eating to rid themselves of what they just ate. But, like most eating disorders, that is just one example of a diverse range of symptoms or cases Bulimia Nervosa can be a part of. Purging methods can vary from inducing vomiting, excessive use of laxatives, water fasting or excessive exercise.

Frequently those who suffer from Bulimia will also be suffering from substance abuse or mental disorders such as depression or anxiety or obsessive personalities. Sample sizes are small, but the data that exists show the condition affects young females disproportionally, especially those involved in activities such as modelling, dance, acting, gymnastics or other activities where a thinner physique is considered an asset. That being said, those of larger body types frequently develop the condition as well. Genetics often play a large role in influencing the onset of Bulimia, with many patient’s parents having a history of the condition.

Common symptoms and signs include dehydration, stomach pain, reduced energy, scars on knuckles and hands from inducing vomiting, constipation, delusions about their condition, obsessions with calories and weight, and irregular menstrual cycles in women. In serious cases Bulimia can lead to the erosion of teeth, cardiac issues, infertility or ulcers.

The good news is that you can make a full recovery from Bulimia. Treatments can be highly effective with proper support and dedication. Psychotherapy and cognitive-behaviour therapy have both shown to be effective treatments along with meditation. In extreme or difficult cases, inpatient treatment may be necessary. Keep in mind recovery can be a long-term journey. It can take years to fully recover and bulimic episodes during that recovery is normal. Prevention is always encouraged by establishing good eating habits for children at a young age. Be aware of the warning signs to recognize when a loved one or friend may be suffering from bulimic behaviours. Early detection and treatment can make for a more effective and easier road to recovery.

Binge-Eating Disorder

Binge-Eating Disorder (BED) is defined as reoccurring episodes with a loss of control when eating, ingesting excessive amounts of food. Feeling driven, compelled or unable to prevent the urges to consume large amounts of food despite the negative emotions associated with it. The behaviour can be comparable to addictions. Everybody may have times where they feel like binging on food, whether for celebrations or holidays, but the key difference is control. Someone suffering from BED will also have feelings of depression or intense guilt after and frequently repeating the behaviour in secrecy, often without feelings of hunger or to the point of discomfort. Having difficulty dealing with negative moods such as anxiety or sadness contribute to Binge-Eating behaviours as a coping method.

shutterstock_228099598There is large role of genetic predisposition to the development of BED, but the common causes relate to strong negative emotions, stress, body image issues and at times simply boredom. They often feel anxious when eating in front of others and will do what they can to hide their binging habits. What might come as a surprise is that many who practice binge-eating do so in response to restrictive diets. Having restricted access to food during the day can lead to binging in the night once alone at home. Due to this it can be difficult to identify or realize someone is suffering from BED. Typically, binge-eating episodes of once to twice a week for a handful of months will lead to a BED diagnosis.

It is important to recognize when you are suffering from Binge-Eating early and to seek treatment quickly as it leads to a host of avoidable health problems. Diabetes, joint pain, depression, sleep apnea, and becoming overweight or obese are some of the issues that can develop. Establishing healthy habits trough Cognitive-behavioural therapy and altering reactions to stressors is a common option for treatment. Improving interpersonal relationships, nutritionist services, support groups, exercise and education on healthy eating have also worked for some patients. Drug therapy and inpatient services have also proven effective. Extreme cases may be referred to specialty facilities. Everyone will find a different method that is effective for them, so do not get discourage if you or a loved one has difficulty at the start. Do not be afraid to try other options, with time, BED is highly treatable and a full recovery is possible!

Do Not Neglect Professional Treatment

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, it is important to let them know they are not alone. Support is available and accessible. With professional help and encouragement from those close to them, recovery and an improved relationship with food is possible. Stray away from accepting denial and be open to discussions about eating habits.  Early treatment will always make recovery easier along with help from professionals. If you or someone you know is seeking treatment, contact us to be paired with the best therapist in Ottawa for your unique case. Help is always out there.