The Basics: What you need to know.
Do you eat in moderation?
Do you rarely overeat or fast?
Do you have a positive image about your body, regardless of any extra pounds you might be carrying?
You are normal!
Eating disorders are characterized by extremes – starving and overeating.
Eating disorders can impair your physical and mental health.
The Details: If you want to know more, continue reading.
Eating disorders are more complex than just eating more than you should at each meal – or continually eating between meals; and, snacking late at night. Scientists haven’t been able to correlate the ‘cause‘ and ‘effect‘ of eating disorders as well as they would like. There are biological, environmental, nutritional, behavioral, social, exercise and emotional issues that intertwine a myriad of causes. This myriad of causes build on each other until control has been eliminated from your dietary and nutritional lifestyle.
Most people with eating disorders don’t believe they have a problem. Malnutrition and obesity have the same behaviors – just different ends of the spectrum. People don’t choose to be malnourished or obese. It happens because of genetics and brain chemistry most of the time. Eating disorders can be inherited. Genetics appears to some degree in 50-80% of research. Research has shown that brain chemistry is altered in the majority of eating disorder patients. It should be pointed out however, that eating disorders are predominant with other mental conditions, such as depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Personality traits have also been observed to predispose a person towards an eating disorder.
One would think that your brain would react differently to bingeing, purging or extreme fasting, but it doesn’t. Anxiety is reduced and the actions taken to achieve that ‘feeling’ are reinforced to continue that behavior. Interestingly enough, many of your brain’s chemistry problems can be brought back into normal ranges by proper nutrition. With an aggressive nutritional program, many patients with eating disorders have normalized their thinking and subsequent behavior.
How would you recognize an eating disorder in someone else? One would think that overeating is the main symptom. However, it is much more complex. You can actually see symptoms of eating disorder before they become serious. Food related symptoms include: dieting and constant diet changes; avoidance of joining others to eat; inflexibility regarding what, how much and when to eat; needing to know the calories of every items they eat; interest in cooking and recipes without actually eating; secretive eating (foods and times); never available for family meals; anger at being forced to eat; food disappearing frequently, etc. Note, one or more of these symptoms does not constitute an eating disorder – or, an early detection. Many people will eat only when they are hungry. Nutrition has a major impact on brain chemistry and should also be included in any assessment of too little or too much food at a meal.
Other symptoms include: excessive exercise; failure to gain weight according to normal curves for their age; socially withdrawn; and, inability to describe emotions. This is a short list of symptoms and is for educational purposes only – not intended to diagnose a problem you, a friend or loved one might have. People with eating disorders typically deny that they have a problem, or that anything is wrong. Early diagnosis and treatment will prevent further serious health problems.
Eating disorders occur most frequently in children, teenagers and young adults. Women are more likely to develop eating disorders compared to men. Men account for 5-15% of patients with anorexia or bulimia. Women make up 90%, give or take, of patients with anorexia or bulimia. Men account to up to 35% of patients with binge-eating disorder compared to 65% for women.
There is a high success rate with eating disorders. It is imperative that other psychiatric conditions be diagnosed and separated for optimal treatment. Anxiety disorders, substance abuse, despair, and depression can be causes of eating disorders. Psychiatric and medical treatments work well if diagnosed early and treated. Eating and psychiatric disorders can lead to many heart and kidney problems, neurological complications, impaired physical development, electrolyte and fluid imbalances, and even death – by related disease or suicide.
Scientists have classified over three-dozen unique and specific types of eating disorders. I will focus on three main categories – anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and eating disorders not otherwise specified. Anorexia nervosa is considered to be a brain disorder. Some researchers believe that in some cases it is linked to undiagnosed autism. Bulimics, on the other hand, tend to suffer from depression or general anxiety disorder.
Anorexia nervosa symptoms include: a persistent quest for a leaner and slenderer body to the point of emaciation, an unwillingness to maintain weight within normal standards, an intense fear of gaining weight, excessive dieting or exercise, misuse of laxatives, diuretics or enemas. The anorexic’s brain cannot perceive reality. They see themselves as fat or overweight when it is obvious to everyone around them that they are scrawny and undernourished. Anorexics weigh themselves constantly. They eat very small servings of only certain foods. Anorexics typically have osteopenia/osteoporosis (bone density diseases), brittle hair and nails, dry and/or yellowish skin, muscle weakness, severe constipation, slowed breathing and pulse, and low blood pressure. They typically feel cold all the time because their internal body temperature is below normal.
Successful treatments for anorexia nervosa include: an aggressive educational program to understand the causes and effects of anorexia nervosa, gaining weight to normal levels, nutritional balance, behavior change to prevent/eliminate relapse, and appropriate treatment for any associated psychological issues. The most important first step is to regain the weight needed for the other treatments to be most effective.
Bulimia nervosa is different than anorexia nervosa. Anorexics fall below normal weight standards for their age and height. Bulimics fall within the normal weights standards. Bulimics feel that they have no control over the food that they eat. They have binge-eating sessions followed by purging, excessive exercise, use of laxatives or diuretics, and fasting to compensate for their binge-eating. These cycles, binge-eating and purging occur several times a week. They fear gaining weight, just like anorexics. They are ashamed and disgusted with their weight and overall appearance. Most bulimic behavior is done secretly.
Bulimics create some unique problems with their binge-purge cycles. They have chronically inflamed or sore throats, swollen glands in their necks below their jaws, worn tooth enamel, electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, intestinal distress, kidney problems, and severe dehydration.
Many bulimics have substance abuse issues, depression and anxiety. Treatment includes nutritional counseling, appropriate medical and psychological treatments for accompanying mental problems. The main treatment is focused to change eating attitudes.
Binge-eating disorder should not be confused with bulimia nervosa. Binge-eating disorder is distinguished by repeated binge-eating episodes. Like bulimia nervosa, the same loss of control over eating is prevalent. However, there is no purging, excessive exercise, or use of diuretics or laxatives. People with binge-eating disorders are typically overweight. They suffer remorse, humiliation, and distress about their eating habits. This usually leads to more binge-eating.
Like other eating disorders, binge-eating disorder can coexist with the typical psychological ailments, such as depression and anxiety. Various personality disorders are also manifested with binge-eating disorder. Many are obese with cardiovascular disease and hypertension. The treatments of binge-eating disorder are similar to bulimia nervosa. It is critical that the underlying emotional issues are addressed early. In many cases, appetite suppressants are prescribed. There are over a dozen prescription appetite suppressant drugs. As with all prescription drugs, side effects abound. Non-prescription appetite suppressants worthy of your consideration are: apples, flaxseeds, caffeine, water, chicken or vegetable soups, oatmeal, salmon, nuts and proteins.
Other Eating Disorders
Other eating disorders are: compulsive overeating, purging disorder, rumination, diabulimia, pica, night eating syndrome, and orthorexia nervosa. Not all of these other related eating disorders are related to brain chemistry abnormalities.
How do you know if you successfully recovered from an eating disorder? Barring any serious brain damage, anorexia and bulimia are successfully treated every day. The earlier treatment is started, the better the results. It used to be thought that eating disorder treatment would last for the rest of your life; or, that you could never fully recover from the disease. That is not true for the vast, vast majority. Most treatments last months, not years.
Full recovery can be observed with manifestations of physical hunger driving your eating habits rather than emotional hunger. Weight is restored to normal levels along with nutritional and metabolic metrics. Decisions regarding food are made based on caloric and nutrient intake. Purging and other related behaviors are eliminated. Skin, dental and hair health return to normal ranges. Disproportionate exercise is gone. A wider variety of food is chosen on a regular basis. Full recovery is also seen in the ability to recognize eating behaviors and having the ability to prevent relapse or to seek further treatment. Weight and body image obsession have vanished.
Red O’Laughlin aka The Prosperity Professor