Eating Disorders

Medical conditions that involve abnormal eating habits where the person may either eat insufficient or excessive quantities of food are referred to as eating disorders. Eating disorders are detrimental to both the physical and mental health of an individual. The most common eating disorders in the US are Anorexia and Bulimia which affect almost 5-10 million people. Eating disorders are not really age or gender specific and can affect men, women and even children in some cases. They generally tend to arise more often in teenagers however because of the awkwardness and self esteem issues that torment you in adolescence. Although cases of eating disorders have been recorded almost all across the globe, studies have shown that men and women in the western countries are more affected or are at a higher risk of developing these disorders as compared to people in other parts of the world. Eating disorders have also become common among young people who are very self conscious about their appearances. This is especially true during puberty where young people go through various physical and mental changes and are also subject to more social pressures. Eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia can cause drastic fluctuations in body weight, start interfering with everyday life and even damage important functions in the body. People suffering from anorexia are under the constant fear of gaining weight and as a result they start restricting their food intake by starving, dieting or extreme exercise. On the other hand people who suffer from bulimia resort to purging and binge eating and also experience fluctuations in weight. People with these eating disorders also resort to self induced vomiting and excessive use of laxatives.

Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Increased awareness and health consciousness have helped us improve the quality of our lives, but our unhealthy obsession with weight and external appearances as well can be quite devastating to those with low self esteem. While we are all concerned with our appearances, teenagers are particularly self- conscious about their looks it becomes difficult to distinguish the symptoms of eating disorders in most cases. It is also not necessary that people who are dieting or exercising rigorously have eating disorders. However, individuals who do suffer from eating disorders may show particular physical signs or abnormal behavioral changes that can be recognized as symptoms of the condition. People who suffer from anorexia may start to become very emaciated, frail or thin. Obsession with weight control and eating habits may be one of the biggest indicators of eating disorders. Erratic behavior like weighing oneself constantly, counting food portions and extreme exercising can all be symptoms of eating disorders. Those suffering from anorexia may also start avoiding social gatherings especially gatherings that involve dining out. They also start showing signs of depression and lethargy. On the other hand those suffering from bulimia also have the constant fear of putting on weight and always tend to be unhappy with their body weight, shape and size. Purging or self induced vomiting is another symptom of eating disorders. Such people always look for reasons to go to the washroom and vomit food that they may have eaten just to avoid putting on weight. They also start using too many diuretics, laxatives and enemas to avoid weight gain. Eating disorders can be diagnosed when the patient admits that he/she has an eating problem and therefore it is very important for parents or friends to gently persuade and coax the individual to admit the problem first. Forceful intervention without empathy and understanding can simply aggravate the problem and further isolate the individual. Medical interview tests may also be conducted to diagnose eating disorders and it is helpful if a parent or friend is present with the patient to provide additional information regarding the eating habits of the patient. In addition to observing and diagnosing physical symptoms, various questionnaires such as the SCOFF and body attitudes questionnaire are also used in diagnosing eating disorders. Anorexia and bulimia can also cause other health problems like tooth decay, water retention, bloating, abdominal distress, irregular periods, esophageal damage, hormonal fluctuations, heart diseases, suicidal tendencies, infertility, neurological problems and other psychological issues.

Causes of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are caused by a number of factors such as family and social pressures, heredity, personality disorders and emotional problems. In many cases they are triggered by negative perceptions of one’s body instilled by perceptions of perfection in friends and family. Studies have shown that many cases of eating disorders are the result of parents pressurizing their children to lose weight. Young girls with a maternal history of eating disorders may also develop this condition themselves. In other cases people who have a family history of obesity are more likely to develop eating disorders like bulimia. Genetic factors can also cause eating disorders in many cases. People whose parents or relatives have had eating disorders are more likely to develop this condition themselves. Studies have also shown that there are particular chromosomes that are linked with anorexia and bulimia. Cultural perceptions and attitudes towards beauty that emphasize thin bodies and media advertisements promoting weight loss programs add to and perpetuate the obsession with appearances, as opposed to fitness and health. Youngsters are particularly vulnerable and are easily influenced. Psychological factors such as child abuse, sexual abuse and neglect can also be some of the other causes of eating disorders.

Remedies for Eating Disorders

The treatment of eating disorders depends on the severity and type of the eating disorder. Instead of using just one method of treatment doctors generally use a combination of treatment options to get good results. Some of the main treatment options include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), family therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, recreation, art or music therapy, nutritional counseling, psychoanalysis and medications. Family and friends play a very important role in preventing eating disorders. Helping a person change the way she looks at herself is the first step in preventing this condition. In many cases if the eating habits and lifestyle of the parents is healthy, it can help in preventing eating disorders for the children in the family as well. Parents should help their children feel good about their body and help them increase their self esteem so that eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia can be avoided. In addition healthy eating habits and regular exercising should also be encouraged in the family. Fad diets, fasting, starvation and use of diet pills should be strictly discouraged as these can soon become an obsession that can lead to eating disorders. There are also many home remedies that can be followed to prevent and recover from eating disorders. Healthy food habits such as eating frequent smaller meals through the day can prevent a body from starving and also lower the chances of over eating or binging. It is also helpful to eat a variety of spicy foods such as chilies, peppers, jalapenos and spicy curries and sauces as they can help in controlling an over active appetite. It is always healthier to eat low fat and low carbohydrate foods which can not only make you feel heavier but also guilty and depressed. Eating licorice when you feel like snacking helps avoid imbalances and also acts like a good diuretic. When you feel like snacking it is also a good idea to eat a mint, brush your teeth or rinse with a mouthwash which can lower the urge to snack at an inappropriate time.

Diet for Eating Disorders

A diet plan for eating disorders depends on the type of eating disorder the person is suffering from. A good diet plan is one which provides enough nutrients and calories to the patient’s body and also helps regularize eating habits. The diet of the patient plays a vital role not only in the recovery process but also helps in promoting long term emotional and physical recovery. Eating regular meals and healthy snacking at similar time’s everyday is very important while recovering from an eating disorder. High protein foods like lean meat, fish and eggs should be included in the daily diet of the patient. Fiber rich foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains must be eaten in plenty to strengthen the immune system and also aid in digestion and metabolism. Dietary fats are also vital to improve nutrient absorption, brain function and skin and hair health. Preparing interesting recipes using healthy ingredients is a great way to make food more appealing to the recovering patient and also boost his will to eat. In addition to making healthy changes in the eating habits of a patient it is also important to introduce vitamin supplements in the daily diet. Most patients suffer from various vitamin deficiencies which can be treated with additional supplements. Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and riboflavin, folic acid and niacin are extremely important for a recovering patient and must be given regularly. It is also very important to follow these dietary and lifestyle changes even after complete recover to avoid relapse.

Suggestions for Eating Disorders

One of the most important things that caregivers should keep in mind is to make sure that the patient maintains a positive frame of mind even after recovery so that the eating disorder does not reoccur. The patient should also continue seeing a therapist after recovery to avoid a relapse and ensure long term recovery. Caretakers must also make sure that the patient does not resort to any kind of drug abuse that can again lead to an eating disorder. Most important is to make sure that the patient maintains a healthy diet and also undertakes regular physical exercise to keep fit.

The practice of a discipline like yoga would be highly beneficial as it not only encourages physical fitness, but also focuses on meditative practices and relaxation techniques that help boost self esteem and self perception.

Eating Disorders - Frequently asked questions