Are You Or A Loved One Suffering From An Eating Disorder?
We all want to feel comfortable in our own skin.
…But when does our emphasis on self-improvement become destructive? For some of us, that question will miss the heart of the problem: many of us aren’t chasing perfection as much as we are bolting as quickly as we can in the opposite direction from feeling worthless.
Eating disorders are a category of psychological conditions that involve an intense preoccupation with food and body image. Body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, an obsession with seeming perfect, and a need to exert control over a situation that feels chaotic can compel an individual to develop abnormal eating habits. But so can a complex range of other factors: high levels of cortisol and serotonin can keep the brain buzzing with stress, which can promote the development of an eating disorder; a family history of eating disorders (your hereditary) enhances your likelihood of acquiring an eating disorder of your own—as does environmental exposure to childhood trauma (e.g. sexual abuse); and so can your society. Just look at how the media in your culture views beauty. Do you live in a country where thicker bodies are considered beautiful? Or do you live somewhere where the runway models are ever-shrinking in size?
Whether your abnormal eating habits include self-starvation or engorging yourself past the point of sickness on food, eating disorders wreak severe emotional and physical damage upon our bodies. One eating disorder in particular—anorexia nervosa—outranks suicide as the most dangerous mental health diagnosis.
But don’t lose hope: We can help! And, you can feel comfortable in your own skin again!
What Are Possible Signs and Symptoms of an Eating Disorder?
- You have obsessive, intrusive, or irrational beliefs and behaviors regarding food or weight loss. For example, you may constantly fret about becoming overweight—even if you appear to be alarmingly underweight. You may engage in extreme dieting to lose the “excess fat”, rationing your food intake to 6-7 grapes a day. If you exceed your designated limit and “overeat”, you may engage in self-discipline (self-harm or scolding yourself), or dissolve into tears because you failed at your attempt to exercise self-restraint
- You become infatuated with an unrealistic body image ideal. You may spend hours comparing yourself unfavorably to celebrities or men or women in high-fashion magazines; or you may stare at your reflection in the mirror, casting a blinding spotlight onto your many “imperfections”
- You engage in one or more of the following habits: calorie-counting, extreme dieting, obsessive exercising, or compulsive staring in mirrors
- You’ve developed bizarre or ritualistic eating practices, such as hoarding your food, concealing your food intake from family or friends, dividing your meals into smaller and smaller portions before consumption, arranging your food meticulously on your plate for prolonged periods of time before eating
- You have episodes of binge-eating, in which you consume an entire day’s portion of food in a single sitting and then engage in fasting or purging (via vomiting or laxative use) to maintain your pre-binge weight
- You exit from meals prematurely to use the bathroom and purge in secret
- Your weight loss and weight gain appears to family and friends as if it yo-yos without an obvious explanation
- You exhibit the following, simultaneous psychological indicators of eating disorders: depression, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, or irrepressible fatigue
What Are the Types of Eating Disorders?
Although there are many different ways in which an individual can develop atypical eating patterns, the most commonly diagnosed eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating:
- Anorexia: when self-restriction of food intake results in an extremely low body mass index (BMI), but body dissatisfaction motivates the individual to continue pursuing weight loss despite evidence of adverse health consequences
- Restricting subtype: weight loss is accomplished primarily by restricting food intake
- Binge-eating/Purging subtype: the individual achieves weight loss by self-starvation, but occasionally “slips up” and engages in episodic binge-eating. Afterward, the individual compensates for weight gain through purging methods (vomiting, enemas, laxatives, etc.)
- Bulimia: when an individual of normal body weight participates in uncontrollable binge-eating and uses subsequent purging techniques (vomiting, self-administering of laxatives or diuretics, etc.) to avoid gaining weight
- Binge-eating: when binge-eating episodes cause extreme remorse in an individual, but no compensatory methods, such as purging or extreme exercising, are implemented afterward to lose weight
Less common eating disorder types include:
- Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder: when an individual avoids or restricts food for reasons other than body image (for example, a lack of appetite or phobic response to eating, etc.); body mass index becomes extremely low and the individual may require nutritional supplements or tube-feeding
- Pica: when an individual consumes items that are non-digestible or non-food
- Rumination disorder: when an individual regurgitates food following a meal and then re-consumes it
How Can Eating Disorder Counseling & Therapy Help My Condition?
Without proper treatment, an eating disorder can progress into a life-threatening medical condition. But, fortunately, recovery is achievable. A successful outpatient treatment plan should use an integrated approach, relying on the medical expertise of doctors and counselors to assess your condition:
- Foremost, your treatment program should prioritize your medical needs. Severe eating disorders can result in sudden cardiac or respiratory arrest, esophageal hemorrhaging (from repetitive induced vomiting), multiple organ systems failure, or death: So, early medical intervention to restore your nutrition is key!
- Next, your therapist will help you address maladaptive beliefs about your body image and food. You may work to process your emotions surrounding food in individual sessions, with a nutritionist who may help you design a meal plan, in the context of a group, or as a component of family or relationship counseling. Your therapist will help you develop coping mechanisms to avoid the urges to binge, purge, or restrict food and help you understand the extenuating stressors that may be contributing to your condition (for instance, a correlated history of sexual abuse or working in an environment, such as athletics or dance, that “demands” thinness).
- Your therapist may introduce you to alternative therapies—such as psychotherapeutic yoga, meditation, mindfulness, equine therapy, and expressive arts as therapy—to equip you with tools for relaxation as you navigate your recovery process
- Your counselor will devote special attention to other psychological conditions that may occur simultaneously with your eating disorder, such as substance abuse, obsessive compulsive disorder, PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc., and ensure that you receive comprehensive treatment for each need
- As fitting, your counselor may connect you with alternatives for higher levels of care, for instance, residential treatment programs or inpatient (hospital) care to stabilize your physical health prior to outpatient treatment