Understanding Eating Disorders

woman struggling to eat little amount of food

Our relationship with food is a complicated one. On the one hand, we eat to survive; however, we also eat because doing so gives us pleasure, especially if the food we are consuming is delicious. As a result, eating can give us a sense of happiness and fulfillment, but can also make us feel guilty and unhealthy, especially if we are trying to reduce our food intake, whether to lose weight or for health reasons.

Hence, it is no surprise that eating disorders are prevalent today. Media coverage has also contributed to the discourse surrounding eating disorders and their causes. Despite this, however, eating disorders remain shrouded in misconceptions and stereotypes. Thus, eating disorders, along with their causes and effects, remain wholly misunderstood, thereby making it more difficult to properly have a discussion on eating disorders without stigmatizing those afflicted.

Here are some of the facts on eating disorders to give you a better understanding of what they really talk about:

What are the different kinds of eating disorders?

The first kind of eating disorder is anorexia nervosa. Treatment centers define this condition as when an afflicted person avoids eating, thus resulting in the body not getting enough nutrition. Most people with anorexia will not admit to having an eating disorder and may try to mask their low weight or unusual eating habits.

Bulimia nervosa, on the other hand, involves a cycle of binge eating — meaning eating a large amount of food in one go — and then purging or vomiting the food. Bulimia may go hand in hand with anorexia, wherein a person constantly avoids food, but binges all of a sudden. As a result of the guilt of having eaten, they then purge themselves to maintain weight.

Binge eating in itself is also considered an eating disorder. This refers to compulsive overeating, where a person rapidly consumes a large number of calories and food all at once. Because of the body’s craving for this nutrition — combined with the emotional toll of an eating disorder — people who binge feel unable to stop despite being uncomfortably full.

What is important to note is that aside from having unhealthy relationships with food and eating, those struggling with eating disorders may also resort to additional measures to lose weight, such as excessive exercise or taking diet pills. Thus, treating an eating disorder requires reforming an entire mindset and not just monitoring how and what someone eats.

What causes one to have an eating disorder?

therapist talking with crying patient

Contrary to popular perception, eating disorders are not solely caused by peer pressure or media influences. Furthermore, it is not only teenaged and young women who are afflicted with eating disorders.

Eating disorders affect both men and women of all races, ages, and socioeconomic classes, and are often seen as the brain’s way of coping with different emotional problems. In fact, studies have shown that the risk of developing eating disorders can be linked to genetics and environmental factors. Moreover, the brain’s chemistry is also altered once an eating disorder has taken hold.

What do I do if I know someone with an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are preventable and treatable. If you think your loved one is at risk of an eating disorder, it is best to refer them to a treatment center as soon as possible. There are many throughout the country that specializes in treating anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders. At the same time, the best thing that you can do is offer your support and refrain from judgment, letting them know that you will be there for them throughout their recovery.