Nutrition Spotlight: Understanding Eating Disorders
By Rebecca Cline
What is an eating disorder?
An eating disorder consists of extreme disturbances and behaviors in relation to one’s weight and food consumption. Typically, the individual feels strongly about his or her body image, and intense eating patterns begin to consume their life. Some people will eat minimal amounts of food while others indulge in huge meals. Often, traumatic events commonly trigger the start of an eating disorder; however, other factors can evolve into the illness as well. There are several variations of eating disorders, but the three most common types are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.
Attention should be brought to those struggling with an eating disorder because many health concerns and life-threatening consequences can develop from this illness. Not only do eating disorders strain the body physically, they can also mentally drain and stress the individual. Spreading awareness about these illnesses and recognizing the signs or symptoms in someone could be the ticket to saving him or her from a dark journey of troubled health.
What is anorexia nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa occurs when the person has a distorted body image of himself or herself. Individuals with anorexia nervosa restrict their caloric intake so that dramatic weight loss is prevalent. Often, the fear of gaining weight occurs, so the individual creates strict rules about their diet. The health concerns due to this disorder are mostly associated with the significantly low body weight. When a person’s BMI is less than 18.5 and considered underweight, many organ systems in the body are affected. Along with the signs and symptoms listed below, anorexia nervosa can also cause anemia, bone loss, kidney problems, and even changes in brain function.
Signs and Symptoms
A person who has anorexia nervosa may demonstrate some of the following signs or symptoms:
• Dramatic weight loss
• Extreme thinness
• Preoccupation with food and weight gain
• Belief that life will be better with weight loss
• Hair loss
• Sunken eyes
• Use of diet pills
• Low blood pressure and heart rate
• Loss of menstrual cycle or irregular menstrual periods
• Mood swings, depression, anxiety, or fatigue
What is bulimia nervosa?
Bulimia nervosa is the act of purging after meals. It can be very similar to anorexia nervosa in terms of being extremely particular with how many calories are consumed; however, no matter the number of calories that are eaten, the meals are often followed by purging. This act strains the body and leads to electrolyte and nutrient imbalances along with throat and teeth damage. Long-term consequences from bulimia nervosa include heart issues and digestion problems.
Signs and Symptoms
An individual with bulimia nervosa may have the following signs or symptoms:
• Bruised knuckles
• Damage to the teeth, throat, esophagus
• Low potassium blood levels
• Low chloride blood levels
• Fear of not being able to control eating
• Frequent bathroom visits following meals
What is binge-eating disorder?
Binge-eating disorder involves eating large amounts of food in a short amount of time. Someone with this disorder might restrict calories all day long and then fall into an episode of compulsive eating that is not purged afterwards. These episodes usually happen in a short period of time and do not typically show any attention to feeling full. The health concerns with this disorder call for increased risk of a heart attack, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Signs and Symptoms
A person who has a binge-eating disorder may demonstrate some of the following signs or symptoms:
• Eating in private
• Eating very quickly
• Feeling guilty after an episode of compulsive eating
• Weight gain
• Intense dieting with or without weight loss
A person’s appearance may not demonstrate all the emotional and physical struggles they are going through. Support is extremely important when fighting an eating disorder. Seeking professional help can be critical for proper treatment. The earlier the behavior is addressed, the greater the chance is for a successful recovery.
For more information about eating disorders, visit http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/.
To find a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist near you, visit http://www.eatright.org/find-an-expert.