Mental Health; A glimpse at eating disorders

An eating disorder (ED) is a mental disorder defined by abnormal eating behaviours that negatively affect a person’s physical or mental health. There are three main types that include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating. Other EDs include pica, rumination, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorders, and night eating syndrome. Having an ED and being on a diet is not the same thing, but frequent dieting can be a curtain-raiser in developing an eating disorder. EDs are often associated with preoccupations with food, weight or shape, eating anxiety or consequences of eating certain foods. Behaviours associated with eating disorders include restrictive eating, avoidance of certain foods, binge eating, purging by vomiting or laxative misuse or compulsive exercise. These behaviours are often driven in ways that resemble an addiction. Common risk factors include gastrointestinal disorders, a history of sexual abuse, and being a dancer or gymnast.

EDs are highly prevalent globally. They affect several million people at any given time, most often women between the ages of 12 and 35. Anorexia and bulimia occur nearly ten times more often in females than males.  Research published in May 2019 on PubMed showed an increase in prevalence rates of eating disorders escalating from 3.5 % between 200-2006 to 7.8% for the 2018-2018 period. Many factors can influence the development of an eating disorder. These factors can be biological, psychological, and social. Individuals who are struggling with their identity and self-image can be at risk, as can those who have experienced trauma. EDs and mental illness are stigmatized hence some people with EDs are secretive or ashamed and often conceal them.

Assessing for an ED is simple. If the way you eat and think about food interferes with your life and keeps you from enjoying life and moving forward, you may be experiencing disordered eating. EDs impose severe health complications such as anxiety, depression, acid reflux, low blood pressure, organ failure, amenorrhea and infertility, and stroke on. Individual. Both anorexia and bulimia increase the risk of death. Recovery from an ED is guaranteed when professional help is sought. Seeking help soonest is paramount, as prolonged suffering may delay recovery from treatment.  EDs are mostly diagnosed by a physician and help sought from a therapist for counselling, a registered dietitian on healthy eating strategies and healthy weight management, and sometimes taking medications (e.g., antidepressants). Recovery from EDs may take time (about 5 years), and therefore requires patience and consistency.

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