Eating disorders are about more than what a person eats or doesn’t eat. They affect overall health, emotions, and daily lives. Unfortunately, a person’s eating disorder can often go unnoticed and undiagnosed.
Those commonly pictured as being susceptible to eating disorders are models or ballerinas. However, anyone can acquire an eating disorder if they give too much importance to how much they weigh, the shape of their body, or the food they eat. We may also think eating disorders only affect teenagers or young adults. Any adult—even your next-door neighbor—could be affected, and you may never know it. They may dress in loose layers or bulky clothing, despite the season, to cover the fact that they are too thin to be healthy.
The impact of an eating disorder is more than just a number on a scale. They are harmful to the heart and digestive system, to bones, teeth, and mouth and can lead to other diseases. Anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder are the most common eating disorders.
The low body weight of those with anorexia can be life-threatening. People with this disorder often have a distorted body image and fear gaining weight. As a result, they will restrict calories beyond a healthy level, exercise to excess, or even use laxatives. As mentioned above, eating disorders can also damage the heart and other bodily systems. Karen Carpenter is a singer/songwriter who became popular with her brother, Richard, in 1970. Karen died in 1983 from heart failure due to her ongoing battle with anorexia. Prior to Karen’s death, little had been publicly discussed about the disorder, but after her death, anorexia became a more-familiar term and diagnosis.
Bulimia is a disorder of bingeing (eating to excess) and purging (vomiting). While forced vomiting is often how a person with this disorder purges what they’ve eaten, other measures include exercising excessively or taking laxatives. Those with bulimia are also obsessed with their body shape and weight. If vomiting is used to purge, the person suffering from bulimia also develops tooth enamel damage and mouth ulcers due to the regurgitated stomach acids.
Those who binge-eat do not purge after eating to excess, though it is still a serious eating disorder. This includes those who know they lack control but continue to eat fast, eat when they aren’t hungry, or over-eat even if they feel full. Feelings of shame or guilt may follow a binge. Binge-eating may also lead to eating alone or in secret due to embarrassment. Those of any weight may suffer from binge-eating. The severity of the binge-eating disorder is determined by how often it occurs.
Adults and eating disorders
Adults who have an unhealthy relationship with food may find themselves in any of these disorders or others. They may use food as a reward or turn to emotional eating (who hasn’t heard of “comfort food”?). Examples include skipping meals for weight loss or “saving” calories for a big meal. Some may skip eating before going out to bars or clubs. In seeking to save the food calories for their alcohol consumption, they may suffer malnutrition, along with risks of cancer, diabetes, or liver problems.
Whether it’s a commonly recognized eating disorder or an unhealthy relationship with food, talk to your doctor if you see yourself in any of these scenarios. If you’re trying to lose weight and don’t know where to start, check out these nutrition tips. If you suffer from emotional eating, this information can help you regain your mental health balance.