Eating disorders: the facts

The most common eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia, and binge eating. Approximately 90% of those with anorexia and bulimia are women, whereas binge eating disorders affect men and women more equally.

Eating disorders are not small or limited problems. They have a profound effect on all aspects of sufferers' lives – and on the lives of their friends and family. They are extremely complex – they do not have one single cause. Rather, there are a number of identified factors that may contribute to a person developing an eating disorder. These include:

  • cultural factors (thin represented as the ideal body shape)
  • family factors (attitudes and communication)
  • biological factors (genetic predisposition)
  • individual factors (personality type, struggling with self-identity or image)
  • precipitating factors (life events, especially traumatic ones)

It is thought that a combination of these factors may cause eating disorders in some people.

Having an eating disorder is much more than being on a diet. It is important to understand that eating disorders are serious medical and psychological problems.

What is anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is identified by a drastic weight loss from dieting. People suffering from anorexia have a greatly disturbed body image and an intense fear of becoming overweight. Even when they are dangerously underweight, they feel that they are overweight. For most people with anorexia, eating and unusual eating habits become an obsession. Most will avoid certain foods and meals and they may carefully weigh and control the portions of their food. Over-exercising is another characteristic of anorexia. Many people with anorexia may also develop binging and purging behaviours over time.

What is bulimia?

People with bulimia have secretive episodes of binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting. They may also fast, may use laxatives or diuretics, and may exercise excessively to lose weight. They will often binge several times a week, where they may consume hundreds to thousands of calories in a matter of minutes or hours. The weight of a person with bulimia may go up and down quite a bit.

What is binge eating disorder?

Like people with bulimia, those with binge eating disorder (also called compulsive eating) have episodes of secret binge eating (where they eat as much as they can). However, they do not purge. The condition tends to be more common in people who are overweight, although the exact relationship between weight and binge eating disorder remains unclear. People who have the condition are also more likely to have a psychiatric disorder like anxiety or depression.

It is important to understand that eating disorders can be managed with appropriate medical and psychological treatment.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2022. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Eating-Disorders

How to help

It can be very stressful to recognize that someone you love or care about may be suffering from an eating disorder, but there is hope. It is important to realize that when you confront them they might react with denial and anger. People dealing with eating disorders may be in denial and are often embarrassed if they are confronted, leading to difficulty with open, honest communication about their symptoms.

A good first step is offering your help, unconditionally and without judgment. Do your homework first so that you know how to help the person recognize their disorder, and then how to help them recover. Be patient and compassionate, as your offers of help may be met with defiance. Offer to set up an appointment with a health care professional as soon as possible; you may also want to offer to go with the person as a source of support.

If you have an eating disorder yourself, the sooner you ask for help the better. People can and do recover from eating disorders but professional help is almost always required. The longer symptoms are denied or ignored, the more difficult recovery will be.

Help can come in many forms, but it mainly depends on what the individual is most comfortable with. People who have just come to terms with acknowledging their own eating problem may feel that individual therapy is the safest route. Other options include group therapy, support groups, and self-help groups where individuals can come together to share their feelings and give and receive support.

Recovery means much more than replacing dieting, binge eating, and purging with healthy eating. It means identifying the underlying dynamics that have brought the person to disordered eating in the first place and then resolving them. The process requires skill, sensitivity, and training; in other words, it's a job for medical and mental health professionals. You can contact the National Eating Disorder Information Centre in Toronto at (416) 340-4156 or 1-866-NEDIC-20 (1-866-63342-20); their website is www.nedic.ca.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2022. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Eating-Disorders

Recognizing eating disorders

Because everyone today seems concerned about weight, and because most people diet at least once in a while, it is hard to tell what is normal behaviour and what is a problem that may escalate to threaten life and happiness. No one person will show all of the characteristics listed below, but people with eating disorders will manifest several.

What to look for:

  • changes in body weight
  • feeling fat when not overweight (for anorexia and bulimia)
  • obsession with continuous exercise (for anorexia and bulimia)
  • visible food restriction and self-starvation (for anorexia and bulimia)
  • frequent trips to the bathroom immediately following a meal (for bulimia and some people with anorexia)
  • denies feeling hungry or makes excuses to skip meals (for anorexia)
  • guilt surrounding food or eating (for bulimia and binge eating disorder)
  • tooth loss or decay (for anorexia and bulimia)
  • rigid, all-or-nothing thinking (for anorexia)
  • binge eating (for people with bulimia, binging is usually followed by "purging": induced vomiting and the use of laxatives and diuretics; in binge eating disorder, there is no purging. People with anorexia may develop binging and purging behaviours over time)
  • use of laxatives or diuretics (for anorexia and bulimia)

If you notice these warning signs in yourself or someone you care about, it is important to seek help. Eating disorders can be successfully treated, but usually require the help of medical professionals and may involve nutrition education, psychotherapy, family counselling, and medications.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2022. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Eating-Disorders

Women and a healthy body image

It is rare today for women to feel good about their bodies. The incredible pressure on women to be thin is unprecedented. The diet, fashion, and cosmetics industries rely on people's desire to change the way they look so it is closer to society's ideal.

Some ideas on creating a healthy body image:

Pay attention to the way you talk to yourself. Stop those voices in your head that tell you your body is not "right." You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones. The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few positive thoughts.

Keep a top-10 list of things you like about yourself – things that aren't related to how much you weigh or what you look like. Read your list often.

Surround yourself with positive people. It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.

Make decisions. Practice making and implementing positive decisions flexibly but firmly, and trust yourself to deal with the consequences. When you assert yourself, you enhance your sense of yourself, learn more, and increase your self-confidence.

Set a good example. Children watch and imitate what they see. They can pick up on their parents' attitudes and concerns about food and eating. Teach them to like themselves the way they are, and to enjoy healthy food and exercise in moderation.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2022. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Eating-Disorders