Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Eating Disorders

I'm sure you've had a meal that you just stuffed your face with every bite in sight, and then waddled your way over to the couch complaining about why you ate so much.  Who hasn't done that around the holiday season when the food is plentiful and oh-so-delicious. 

Or maybe you wanted to fit into that little black dress, so you cut back on your calorie intake or do one of those "fast action cleanses" with water & lemon for a few days.

Or maybe you came home from work and literally ate everything out of your fridge and cupboard.  Like, everything.

Eating disorders are serious but treatable illness with medical and psychiatric aspects.  Anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorders are most commonly known.

Bulimia Nervosa is a disorder that is defined by the individual binge eating and purging - making themselves vomit everything they ate.  It often becomes a sense of power, of control of one's body that they are the ones making the decisions for their weight, for their lives.  Often, Bulimia is seen in young women, teenagers, and into 20's - but this is not an exhaustive age range.  Eating disorders can be with someone their entire life, or begin later on in life.

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder defined by the individual drastically cutting their food intake to a dangerous low-calorie level, for the irrational fear of putting on weight.  Even one pound of weight gain can cause someone who is dealing with anorexia into a downward spiral.  Anorexia is most popular in women, at about 85%, while 15% of people dealing with the disorder are men. 

Eating disorders aren't just about binging, purging and starving yourself.  Some individuals have problems with being able to stop eating.  There are people who deal with the fact that they will eat all day long - and not necessarily healthy food.  They may be eating 25 hamburgers a day, buckets of fried chicken, sweets and baked goods.  And while they know what they are doing is not good for them, they simply cannot stop.  They often become immobilized, and dependant on others to fulfill their food intake needs.

Some individuals may take laxative pills or teas to help them with the purging of the food they've eaten.  This can create a real dependency on the OTC drug, cause internal issues that go unseen for a long time.  Ulcers, colon and intestinal wall breakdowns, and more.

Purging (vomiting) causes the stomach to become weak, acid burning away the enamel on one's teeth, causing the esophagus to become inflamed and raw. 

Starving one's self causes weakened organs, the heart to work and beat faster, exhaustion, the muscles to breakdown strength and bones to become brittle.

Over-eating causes heart concerns, obesity, organs to become sluggish and tired.  There is also the financial factor - the food intake can cost hundreds of dollars every couple of days, thousands a month.  Often this individual cannot work, and is supported by others or social assistance.

Many factors play into an eating disorder.  There may be an underlying mental illness, there may be pressure from peers.  Possibly, the person is obsessed with what the perfect body is - when Hollywood calls 150lbs "obese and fat" it's easy for a woman to question herself.  There may have been a traumatic experience in the individual's life, and having this one thing that they are in control of, self-gratifying.  Again, this is not an exhaustive list of possibilities for developing an eating disorder.

Do you have someone in your life who you may fear has an eating disorder?  Here are some signs for you to watch for regarding Anorexia, Bulimia and Purge Eating:

  • Constant or repetitive dieting (eg. counting calories/kilojoules, skipping meals, fasting, avoidance of certain food groups or types such as meat or dairy, replacing meals with fluids)
  • Evidence of binge eating (eg. disappearance of large amounts of food from the cupboard or fridge, lolly wrappers appearing in bin, hoarding of food in preparation for bingeing)
  • Evidence of vomiting or laxative abuse (eg. frequent trips to the bathroom during or shortly after meals)
  • Excessive or compulsive exercise patterns (eg. exercising even when injured, or in bad weather, refusal to interrupt exercise for any reason; insistence on performing a certain number of repetitions of exercises, exhibiting distress if unable to exercise)
  • Making lists of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods
  • Changes in food preferences (eg. refusing to eat certain foods, claiming to dislike foods previously enjoyed, sudden interest in ‘healthy eating’)
  • Development of  patterns or obsessive rituals around food preparation and eating (eg. insisting meals must always be at a certain time; only using a certain knife; only drinking out of a certain cup)
  • Avoidance of all social situations involving food
  • Frequent avoidance of eating meals by giving excuses (eg. claiming they have already eaten or have an intolerance/allergy to particular foods)
  • Behaviours focused around food preparation and planning (eg. shopping for food, planning, preparing and cooking meals for others but not consuming meals themselves; taking control of the family meals; reading cookbooks, recipes, nutritional guides) 
  • Strong focus on body shape and weight (eg. interest in weight-loss websites, dieting tips in books and magazines, images of thin people)
  • Development of repetitive or obsessive body checking behaviours (eg. pinching waist or wrists, repeated weighing of self, excessive time spent looking in mirrors)
  • Social withdrawal or isolation from friends, including avoidance of previously enjoyed activities
  • Change in clothing style, such as wearing baggy clothes
  • Deceptive behaviour around food, such as secretly throwing food out, eating in secret (often only noticed due to many wrappers or food containers found in the bin) or lying about amount or type of food consumed
  • Eating very slowly (eg. eating with teaspoons, cutting food into small pieces and eating one at a time, rearranging food on plate)
  • Continual denial of hunge
Physical Warning Signs
  • Sudden or rapid weight loss
  • Frequent changes in weight
  • Sensitivity to the cold (feeling cold most of the time, even in warm environments)
  • Loss or disturbance of menstrual periods (females) 
  • Signs of frequent vomiting - swollen cheeks / jawline, calluses on knuckles, or damage to teeth 
  • Fainting, dizziness
  • Fatigue - always feeling tired, unable to perform normal activities
Psychological warning signs
  • Increased preoccupation with body shape, weight and appearance
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Constant preoccupation with food or with activities relating to food
  • Extreme body dissatisfaction/ negative body image
  • Distorted body image (eg. complaining of being/feeling/looking fat when actually a healthy weight or underweight)
  • Heightened sensitivity to comments or criticism about body shape or weight, eating or exercise habits
  • Heightened anxiety around meal times
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Moodiness or irritability
  • Low self-esteem (eg. feeling worthless, feelings of shame, guilt or self-loathing)
  • Rigid ‘black and white’ thinking (viewing everything as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’)
  • Feelings of life being ‘out of control’
  • Feelings of being unable to control behaviours around food
  • Fear of growing up/taking on adult responsibility
If you need someone to talk to about yourself and a potential eating disorder, or someone you care about, our Crisis Line Specialists are here 24/7 at 613-238-3311.  We have resources to help you get healthy again.

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