If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, you already know how isolating and hopeless the situation can feel. The food we eat is a large part of maintaining our physical, mental, and emotional health. If that nourishment is absent, whether by starvation or bingeing and purging, disease can set in. February 21-27 is National Eating Disorders Awareness week, which means it’s a good time to speak openly about the impact of eating disorders.
They come in many forms
Eating disorders are mental health conditions marked by an unhealthy obsession with food, body weight, or body shape. There are a variety of eating disorders, but the two most common are anorexia and bulimia. Anorexia, which affects many more women than it does men, causes you to think you’re overweight even if you’re dangerously underweight. In response, anorexics often limit calories, enforce excessively restrictive eating patterns, and are terrified of gaining weight.
Bulimia involves bingeing on food and then purging. If you’re bulimic, you’ll eat large amounts of food until you’re are painfully full. (This gorging often feels as if it’s impossible to control.) Afterward, bulimics purge the food they just ate through forced vomiting, fasting, laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or excessive exercise. Like anorexia, bulimia impacts more women than men and involves extreme fear of gaining weight.
Some other, less common, eating disorders include pica, rumination, and Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. Pica involves craving and eating things that aren’t food, such as dirt, soil, chalk, soap, paper, hair, wool, pebbles, cornstarch, and more. Rumination disorder is a newly recognized eating disorder, and is characterized by regurgitating previously chewed and swallowed food, chewing it again, and then either swallowing it or spitting it out. Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder involves a disturbance in eating patterns due to a distaste for certain smells, tastes, textures, and foods.
Eating disorders are usually treated with psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, and sometimes medication and monitoring. In some cases, care teams will also work with patients to address health problems caused by the disorder, including heart and kidney problems.
If you or a loved one has an eating disorder, it’s a good idea to get treatment as soon as possible. You can start by scheduling an appointment with your primary care doctor or a mental health provider.
No matter which line of treatment you choose, eating disorders aren’t easy to deal with because they aren’t just about food. They’re also about psychological and emotional tendencies that must be addressed. But plenty of people recover from them after getting the right combination of treatments.
What about stress and eating disorders?
As with any mental illness, eating disorders are magnified by stress and vice versa. The body’s ability to deal with daily stress can be completely jeopardized by an eating disorder. It’s incredibly difficult to deal with life stressors when you’re not getting the basic nutrition your body needs to function. Likewise, a buildup of stress can cause an eating disorder to get worse or even reappear after it’s been treated.
A lot of eating disorder patients also suffer from anxiety or depression. Self-loathing is common, as is a tendency toward perfectionism. Imagine feeling like you live in a glass bubble and all it takes to shatter your mental health is an unexpected comment from someone or a personal failure. It’s a precarious way to live and exactly the reason ongoing support and treatment are necessary for anyone who suffers from eating disorders.
By bringing awareness to the often isolating and hopeless experience of suffering from an eating disorder, we can help curb the problem. If you think you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, the experts at Hancock Counseling and Psychiatric Services can help. Contact them at 317-468-6200 and they’ll work with you to schedule an appointment and create a care plan.