In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I would like to throw out some information about eating disorders, a “hidden” mental illness. Eating Disorders are not often discussed as eating disorder suffers are ashamed and keep these issues to themselves. Consequently, Americans also tend to avoid the discussions of eating disorders. Alarmingly, though, this is a serious mental illness affecting over 11 million people in the U.S., both men and women, ranging in ages from early childhood to late old age. Gone untreated, eating disorders can result in malnutrition; muscle atrophy; chronic fatigue and insomnia; low blood pressure; kidney, liver, and pancreas failure; arthritis; infertility; heart attacks; and death. In fact, eating disorders has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.
So “what is an eating disorder,” you ask. An eating disorder is an unhealthy relationship with food and weight and body image. Subsequently, it is an attempt to cope with emotions and stress/ trauma related issues. The DSM-V, published in May 2013 distinguishes among 3 primary eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. Anorexia Nervosa can be further defined as the restriction of food intake below the requirements for a particular individual’s need, intense fear of weight gain and obsession with weight, inability to recognize true body shape, and inability to recognize the seriousness of the condition. Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by eating an unusually large amount of food all at one time followed by compensatory behaviors to prevent weight gain, feeling out of control during the binge-eating occurrence, and self-judgment based on weight and shape. Binge eating disorder is a recurrent situation of eating an unusually large amount of food until feeling full to the point of discomfort and feeling out of control during the occurrence.
Early detection is key in identifying eating disorders. Signs and symptoms commonly discussed are low weight and starvation habits; however, this is only the beginning. Those suffering from eating disorders can be of any weight and size. Other signs and common behaviors are frequent comments about feeling “fat”, frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, skipped meals, baggy clothes to hide the body, excessive exercise regimen, excessive amounts of water, and excessive amounts of mouthwash, mints, and gum.
The good news is that eating disorders are treatable. The most effective and long-lasting treatment for an eating disorder is some form of psychotherapy or psychological counseling, coupled with careful attention to medical and nutritional needs. Support from family and friends is also vital to treatment and recovery.
If you or someone you know may be suffering from an eating disorder, please do not hesitate to seek help. If you are in need of assistance or guidance with your eating disorder, feel free to contact me as I would be more than willing to help you in whatever ways I can.
Licensed Marital & Family Therapist
Licensed Drug & Alcohol Counselor
Oklahoma Board Approved LADC Supervisor
Oklahoma State Certified ADSAC Assessor