The World of Eating Disorders

The World of Eating Disorders

Like many mental health illnesses, the conversations around eating disorders are generally riddled with myths and misconceptions. Part of this is due to how EDs are portrayed through social media, television, and movies. The misunderstandings often lead to many people not receiving the help they need. It’s not just diagnosed eating disorders but disordered eating, too. Disordered eating is generally a precursor to developing an eating disorder, and is much more common. 

Facing challenges with food is no easy task, but recovery is possible. There is no cure for eating disorders like most mental health disorders, but they are certainly treatable. Mindful Living Group’s holistic approach to treatment provides interventions in all areas associated with a person’s ED or disordered eating behaviors. Treatment generally consists of psychotherapy, lifestyle coaching, and nutritional coaching. 

Disordered Eating vs. Eating Disorders

The diagnosis of an eating disorder follows strict criteria set by the DSM-V, which recognizes six separate disorders: Rumination Disorder, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge-Eating Disorder, and Pica. Except for Pica, the disorders are mutually exclusive. The most common are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge-Eating Disorder. 

Anorexia Nervosa is defined by extreme levels of food restriction. There are two types of AN: an individual tends to restrict food consumption heavily, and the other is the tendency toward binging and purging behaviors. Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by recurrent periods of binge-eating and compensatory behavior – including, but not limited to, self-induced vomiting, laxatives, and food restriction. Binge-Eating Disorder is a relatively new type of diagnosis and is similar in traits to Bulimia Nervosa but without compensatory behaviors. 

It’s traditionally believed that eating disorders are just about food. Instead, it is much more complex and involves a combination of multiple factors. Eating disorders are more than wanting to be thinner and are not about vanity or a phase adolescents grow out of. Contrary to popular belief, the onset of EDs or disordered eating can occur at any age, in any gender; however, it is more frequently seen in females. There is no exact cause, although it is often a response to other distressing life events, such as trauma, anxiety, and other co-occurring or pre-existing mental or physical health conditions. Most individuals suffering from an eating disorder seek a sense of control in their lives. 

Over the last decade or so, paleo, carnivore, or ketogenic diets (and the like) have boomed in popularity for reasons such as weight loss, clean eating, and overall health. There’s always something or someone advertising the newest, healthiest diet no matter where you go. While eating healthy and caring for your body’s needs is extremely important for physical and mental health, sometimes it can become an obsession. Orthorexia Nervoso (while not a specific diagnosis in the DSM-V) is considered a significant form of disordered eating. This fixation on healthy foods may result in an individual eliminating vital nutrients and food groups, ultimately causing harm to their body. 

Individuals with eating disorders often suffer from depression; this may be a preexisting condition or may develop from the ED. Individuals who suffer from EDs often become increasingly anxious about eating, especially in public settings. To avoid public dining environments, a person may decline invitations to events or gatherings where food is involved. There is an increase in isolating behaviors in those with an ED, contributing to progressing depression and anxiety. 

Treatment Approaches For Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are often difficult to treat due to many patients not recognizing the severity of their eating habits and associated behaviors. Disordered eating, or eating disorders, are complex psychological conditions that can lead to potentially life-threatening health problems. EDs are one of the most fatal psychiatric diagnoses due to the extreme damages that may be inflicted on the body. 

Psychotherapy is one of many essential methods of treatment used for eating disorders. Because one of the most prominent drivers of eating disorders is the need for control, therapists can help guide individuals in identifying and resolving the emotions and/or events that led to this need. It is estimated that approximately 50 percent of people diagnosed with an ED have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives. Additionally, eating disorders are often coupled with one or more mental health disorders or physical illnesses. These may be pre-existing and led to the development of the ED or as a result of an ED. Depression and anxiety are two of the most common to co-exist, especially as the disorder progresses. Psychotherapy is beneficial in addressing and overcoming the mental aspects and teaching individuals healthy coping skills they can use in times of need.  

Alongside psychotherapy, nutritional therapy is a critical component in the treatment plan for those with an ED or disordered eating. Nutritional therapy should be led by a licensed, registered dietitian due to extreme impacts on the body from the disorder, such as constipation, significant weight loss or weight gain, loss of menstrual cycles, atrophy, weakened bones, and even cardiovascular problems. It is vital to the health and safety of the individual to rebalance their body and systems properly as not to cause damage. The changes may be uncomfortable and challenging to handle. Dietitians are able to assist in creating healthy meal plans and patterns, reach and maintain a healthy weight, and help create healthy relationships with food. 

Two forms of therapy – occupational and physical – are becoming popular approaches in treatment plans. Occupational therapists help individuals with challenges such as social activities involving food, cooking, eating alone, or grocery shopping. While these are only a few of the areas that an occupational therapist may provide help with, they are often situations that bring on anxiety and have the potential for causing relapse. Individuals who struggle with anorexia nervosa are more prone to heightened sensory responses and may benefit greatly from the help of an occupational therapist.

Physical therapy is important in establishing a healthy body awareness and rebuilding muscle mass, and educating about proper exercising – it is common for those with an ED or disordered eating to engage in excessive amounts of exercise to the point of injury. Additionally, taking part in exercises such as yoga, massage, or aerobics helps decrease symptoms associated with depression and anxiety while building up self-confidence. 

Risks, Health Concerns, & Prevention

Eating disorders are a leading cause of fatalities. Fortunately, the severity of these disorders is becoming more acknowledged. Even though the stigmas and myths are being deconstructed, there is still a long way to go, especially in understanding the damage eating disorders can cause to the body. The most frequently seen risks are dehydration, cardiovascular conditions, and diabetes.

Dehydration is often underestimated in the damages it can cause to our bodies and cognition. Individuals with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are at high risk for severe dehydration due to restriction and purging behaviors. Dehydration results in the imbalance of electrolytes and other critical elements such as potassium, calcium, and sodium. Electrolyte imbalance is linked to sudden death in people with bulimia nervosa due to extreme purging. In addition to the imbalance, it increases the risk of cardiovascular conditions. Cardiovascular complications commonly linked to eating disorders include bradycardia (low heart rate), hypotension (low blood pressure), arrhythmia, congestive heart failure, and cardiovascular disease. 

Individuals who suffer from binge eating disorder (BED) are at an increased risk of becoming obese and/or developing Type II Diabetes. Unlike Type I, Type II Diabetes can be put into remission via an altered lifestyle and diet. Type II Diabetes is the ninth leading cause of death in the United States. 

A primary concern among all forms of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors is malnutrition. As a result, there is a decrease in organ function and respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Malnutrition can contribute to an increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety. Apart from the physical aspects, the mental and emotional effects are daunting and may even lead to suicide.  On average, individuals with anorexia nervosa are 18 times more likely to die by suicide and seven times more likely for those who have bulimia nervosa. 

As advocacy groups and individuals continue to shed light on the severity of eating disorders and other mental health disorders, access to and education around prevention becomes more prevalent. Understanding what healthy means for each person is one of the best places to start. Each of us tolerates different foods and lifestyles to varying degrees. Food intolerances or allergies, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or even mitochondrial diseases are all affected by the foods eaten and play a role in mental health and physical health. The relationships people have with the food they eat are one of the most important as food directly affects the way we feel. 

Find Help Today

If you or your child are struggling with symptoms of disordered eating or an eating disorder, it is crucial to seek out the help of professionals. Mindful Living Group’s compassionate team of therapists and medical practitioners can provide the support and guidance you need to establish a healthy and satisfying life. 

To learn more about treatment options, or if you have any questions or are ready to schedule an appointment, contact Mindful Living Group today.