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Dealing with eating disorders

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By Nimoyo Salim | February 14th 2021

Eating disorders negatively impact your health (physical and mental) and daily life, and if not addressed might cause severe problems.

The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, orthorexia nervosa and pica.

Scientists have not yet discovered the cause, but combining efforts that may lead to an eating disorder can be psychological, biological or environmental.

Psychological causes include issues such as dealing with low self esteem, anxiety, depression, anger, frustration and loneliness. Environmental factors can include things like cultural pressure, where certain body shapes are preferred, perpetuating body stereotypes or in activities like sports.

Anorexia nervosa

This is an eating disorder characterised by self starvation resulting in extremely low body weight due to fear of gaining weight. It is more rampant in women than men, especially women aged 15 to 19.

Due to starvation, the body lacks essential nutrients such as potassium, calcium and sodium resulting in a weak immune system.

This is different from controlled dieting, because when someone is dieting they want to lose weight, but when one is suffering from anorexia, they lose weight in order to have self mastery and gain elusive happiness.

Those affected usually restrict their intake of food by either skipping meals, eating less food and excess cardio exercise, all in the pretense of preventing weight gain and keeping track of their calories intake.

Those suffering from anorexia may experience decreasing testosterone, kidney problems, heart problems, anemia, menstrual irregularities, dry and brittle nails, abdominal pain, low blood pressure, dry and yellow skin, dizziness and fainting, and insomnia.

The sad reality is that when one thinks they have gained weight they go to extreme lengths to shed it. Some induce vomiting or use of diuretics to rid themselves of calories, and finally laxatives.

Treatment can include nutrition aids coupled with therapy.

Binge eating

This is characterised by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food, resulting in weight gain and obesity.  

After consuming a hearty meal, one might experience shame, distress or guilt afterwards, resulting in unhealthy compensatory measures such as purging to counter it. 

Signs that one is binge eating include abnormal eating schedules, eating when one is not hungry, feeling guilty after eating, hiding food to eat later, thinking that food is your only friend, eating alone due to shame, self defeating statements after food consumption, fatigue and a history of weight fluctuations.

The goal for treatment is to reduce overeating and, when necessary, to lose weight.

Psychotherapy such as cognitive behavior therapy helps one cope with triggers that can result in compulsive overeating such as negative feelings about your body, and may also help regulate one’s eating patterns.

Interpersonal psychotherapy is how you relate with other people. The goal is to improve your interpersonal skills. This may reduce binge eating triggered by poor communication skills.

Dialectical behavior therapy helps one to learn behavioral skills that may aid in tolerating stress. Sometimes doctors prescribe antidepressant medication to their patients.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia is in between anorexia and binge eating. Here, one wants to eat but at the same time they want to maintain a certain body physique, so they are pushed into depression and self-induced vomiting, purging and fasting. This self harm can cause swelling of the salivary glands.

The recurrent binge and purge cycles of bulimia can affect the entire digestive system and can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions.

Orthorexia nervosa

The term was coined in 1998. This is where one is extremely concerned with the food they take.

It is normal to be cautious, but when you have orthorexia you become so focused on the purity of the food termed healthy, eating or “cleanliness” to the point it becomes unhealthy and obsessional.

The person might only go for narrow groups of food considered pure or healthy, compulsively checking ingredients and nutritional labels.

Like anorexia, orthorexia leads to reduced intake in terms of amount and variety of foods eaten leading to malnutrition. The two disorders share many of the same physical consequences. It can be treated with psychotherapy, increase the variety of foods eaten and exposure to anxiety-provoking or feared foods, as well as weight restoration as needed.

Pica

This is an unusual eating disorder where an individual craves and eats non-food substances such as soap, cloth, laundry detergents, synthetic materials and paper.

This disorder may particularly affect children, pregnant women and people with mental disabilities.

Pica might be dangerous considering what one has ingested, as one risk of poisoning, nutritional deficiencies, infections and gut injuries.

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