What are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are mental illnesses that originate from different factors such as biology, psychology, family, culture and society. These illnesses are characterised by extreme behaviour to lose weight, avoid gaining it or even binge eating large quantities.

Eating disorders are considered behavioural disorders as they are fundamentally psychological. Although the external symptoms appear as abnormal eating habits (prolonged diets, binge eating, refusing to eat certain things, self-induced vomiting, etc.), at the very source of these disorders are psycho emotional issues (low self-esteem, distorted body image, personal dissatisfaction, etc.). Medically, eating disorders are considered mental illnesses.

Most common eating disorders:

Depending on the external symptoms, the most common eating disorders in adolescents are Anorexia, Bulimia and Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS).

Anorexia is the most publically well known even though it is less common, compared to other disorders. It can be defined as a deliberate loss of weight by self-fasting. In addition to being extremely thin, people with anorexia show an intense fear of gaining weight and commonly have a distorted body image.

Bulimia is more common than anorexia and more difficult to detect. It is characterised by repeated episodes of excessive ingestion (binge eating) followed by periods of normal eating or fasting but without extreme weight loss. To avoid gaining weight when binge eating, which is done frequently, they often vomit, use laxatives, follow exaggerated diets and/or exercise excessively.

When there are symptoms related to eating disorders but do not completely fall under Anorexia or Bulimia, they can be considered eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS). For example, a person who binge eats and vomits but not very often (in order to be considered bulimia, binge eating and compensatory behaviour occur on average at least two times during one week for a period of three months).

These disorders commonly take time to appear because, as they are only partial, they have less of an impact on a person’s physical or behavioural aspects, which decreases their motivation and that of the people that surround them to seek help. In any case, the fact the EDNOS is a less complete form does not mean it is any less dangerous or in need of treatment.

Currently, it has been shown that there is an increase in partial eating disorders and studies undoubtedly show that eating disorders are not “all or nothing” illnesses, but rather they refer to a spectrum of people that range from those who have an unnecessary concern for their weight up to clinical cases.

anorexia and bulimia

 

Common misconception regarding Anorexia and Bulimia:

One common misconception regarding Anorexia and Bulimia simplifies them, stating that “if you eat a lot and then vomit it all back up you have bulimia and if you do not eat you have anorexia”.

Vomiting is not exclusive to Bulimia, as it may appear in other eating disorders. For example, there are two types of Anorexia: restricting and purging.  The second type includes vomiting and binge eating in addition to dieting.

In the same way, a person may suffer from Bulimia and not vomit. There are also two types of Bulimia: Purging which means the person regularly vomits and non-purging where the person fasts or exercises excessively but without vomiting.

It is also common to self-induce vomiting for eating disorders not otherwise specified.

Another false belief about eating disorders is that they can be detected just by looking at someone. For example, if someone has a very fit body they must not have an eating disorder or oppositely if they are very thin that they must suffer from anorexia.

In the majority of cases, the physical appearance of a person suffering from eating disorders is completely normal and incorrectly assuming that eating disorders have anything to do with physical appearance make them even more difficult to detect.

Additionally, this incorrect belief makes many adolescents and their family members believe that a disorder is only serious when it is visible, which only perpetuates the cycle. However, eating disorders are not sudden onset illnesses and often lead to cycles of recovery and relapse. Early detection and starting treatment as soon as possible can be key factors for successful treatment.

Misconceptions about eating disorders make their detection more difficult and the more time that passes without them being treated makes it more difficult to help cure them. Will you help to take down incorrect beliefs about Anorexia and Bulimia? Make sure to leave a comment below about any experience you may have had dealing with Anorexia and Bulimia or any other eating disorder!

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