eating disorders

Eating disorders: Types, symptoms and cure

An eating disorder can take a severe toll on your physical, emotional and mental well-being. It can also hinder your day-to-day functioning as the person is constantly distressed about their weight and body shape. This in turn can lead to eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and Unspecified Feeding or Eating disorder.

What is an eating disorder?

According to Rynelle Oliver, a psychologist when an individual constantly over values his/her weight, shape or appearance, is distressed about it and feels compelled to indulge in harmful eating and weight control behaviours, the condition is classified as an eating disorder.

Types and symptoms

Eating disorders include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder. To identify these conditions one has to examine the physical, psychological and behavioural signs.

  • Anorexia Nervosa

This condition arises from anxiety about a distorted body image. It’s an intense fear of gaining weight. The individual experiences significant weight loss, and is severely underweight. In this condition, the individual is also likely to induce vomiting and use laxatives to ensure that whatever food goes in comes out.

  • Bulimia Nervosa

Also known as Binge and Purge, individuals suffering from this condition eat large quantities of food in a short period of time. They then try to compensate for excessive eating by purging the extra calories consumed to relieve the discomfort. Similar to anorexia, the individual is also likely to induce vomiting and use laxatives to ensure that whatever food goes in comes out.

  • Binge eating disorder

People suffering from this condition generally consume large amounts of food in short intervals, and experience a lack of control during the episode. They are also likely to experience feelings of shame, guilt and distress over their lack of control.

  • Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder

It applies when an individual’s symptoms do not line-up with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder (BED). Also, in cases where there is simply not enough information to determine a specific diagnosis. It’s then categorised as Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder. (UFED)

Symptoms of eating disorders

They can be divided into physical, psychological and behavioural signs.

Physical signs

When it comes to physical signs you are likely to observe weight loss, weight gain, and fluctuations in weight in a loop. In adolescence, for boys you will notice that puberty is not as advanced as their peers. For girls, they are likely to experience a delay in their menstruation. Other indications include swelling around the cheeks or jaws and calluses on the knuckles and damaged teeth.

Individuals suffering from eating disorders, especially if drastically underweight will experience exhaustion and sensitivity to cold. You will also observe lanugo, a whitish hair growth on the face that’s the body going in primal mode to protect one from the cold.

Psychological signs

The individual will have a preoccupation with food, body shape and is likely to experience extreme body satisfaction. There’s a constant desire to lose weight and he or she is also likely to have a distorted body image. Other signs include anxiety around meal times as it becomes a trigger for them. Also, he or she is likely to have a fixed idea of good or bad food, that’s hard to dismiss or change.

Behavioural signs

These include rigid behaviour traits i.e. only eating specific foods during specific hours. They are also likely to go on an extreme diet or exercise routine. Purging using laxatives, cutting out foods once enjoyed, trying to lie about allergies or concealing the fact that they have not eaten.

Treatment and cure

Eating disorders call for a triangular approach or a multi-disciplinary approach. The individual has to seek help from a psychologist or a psychiatrist, and would also need advice from a nutritionist and a general general practitioner (GP). These three can’t function without each other. The GP will look after the physical aspect, the nutritionist will advise on the type of dietary requirements and the psychologist looks into the mental well-being of a patient. These three aspects work in tandem.

Family-based therapy is a good way to address eating disorders. The individual needs the support of family and friends as stigma around eating disorders is high. Helping your family understand the disorder will help them understand you better.

Apart from family-based therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is also used to alter thought patterns and change actions along with Interpersonal PsychoTherapy and medication whenever needed.