With the New Year upon us we start to think about weight and issues with our bodyAccording to the Nation Eating Disorder Association, eating disorders (ED) such as anorexia have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and about 10-15% of people in American struggle with eating disorders. According to The National Institute of Mental Health, an eating disorder is an illness that causes serious disturbances to your everyday diet, such as eating extremely small amounts of food or severely overeating. In my practice, I see patients that range anywhere from 85lbs to 450lbs, and that wide of a gap can make it hard for people to accept that they fall in the same category.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder, when a person becomes obsessed with imaginary defects in their appearance, often goes hand-in-hand with an eating disorder. From people believing that their elbows are fat to the morbidly obese believing they are healthy at any weight, their individual issues are incredibly similar-- even though their physique may not be. Working with ED patients is very challenging, and rewarding work; however, not unexpectedly, medical nutrition therapy is often met with a great deal of resistance. In a dietitian's office, patients often face their fear head on. Yet, a key part of the patient's recovery is a family support system that is going to be there with them from beginning to end.
Below are four common eating disorders and resources to help yourself or someone you love in dealing with these marginalized, but deadly, diseases:
Binge-Eating Disorder. This is a serious eating disorder in which an individual frequently consumes unusually large amounts of food and feels like they are unable to stop eating. This is not the occasional overeating that can occur during the holidays; binge-eating is more frequent and is generally accompanied by shame and embarrassment, but an inability to stop. This disorder is also accompanied by frequent dieting without results. An excellent place to start on the road to recovery is the Binge Eating Disorder Association. Not only do they have information, but also links to professionals that can help.
Anorexia Nervosa. This is an eating disorder characterized by an abnormally low bodyweight, coupled with an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of body. Individuals with anorexia can become obsessed with controlling their weight and shape, using extreme efforts that tend to significantly interfere with activities in their lives. Interestingly, anorexia may not be about food; this eating disorder, as well as many others, can be an unhealthy way to try to cope with emotional problems. Help is available and the National Eating Disorder Association has information for patients and family members.
Bulimia Nervosa. Is a serious, life-threatening eating disorder. Individuals with bulimia may secretly eat large amounts of food and then purge, or try to get rid of the extra calories in an unhealthy way. Generally, they will force vomiting or engage in excessive exercise. Sometimes people purge after eating only a small snack or a normal-size meal. A good place to start with yourself or someone you know with bulimia is Eating Disorder Hope. They have good resources and can connect you with someone very quickly.
EDNOS. This categorization is a sort of catch-all for everything else. It includes eating disorders that do not meet the criteria for anorexia or bulimia nervosa, such as, Night Eating Syndrome, purging infrequently, and other food avoidant behavior. EDNOS is the most common diagnosis among people who seek treatment and more information can be found on the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders website.
These are complicated disorders that, at times, don't make sense to people on the outside. But with good information, professional help and tons of patience, these diseases can be overcome. The key is to identify them as early as possible and seek treatment and support.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.