Eating disorders are often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, sometimes because the individual suffering from this disorder hides their symptoms and behaviors due to fear and shame. Unfortunately, a diagnosis typically occurs after permanent side effects have already emerged. This is why it’s important to understand the characteristics of eating disorders and to get help as soon as possible.
At least 30 million Americans are currently living with an eating disorder. Eating disorders can affect individuals of all ages, genders and races. For example, between 1999 and 2009, hospitalizations involving eating disorders for male patients increased by 53 percent and 13 percent of females over the age of 50 engage in eating disorder behaviors.
Because scientific research has shown that eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are brain disorders, not a function of choice, prevention is difficult. Low self-esteem and/or poor body image are often a large social influence on the development of eating disorders, but they can also arise from physical and emotional issues. Knowing all of this can make prevention challenging but not impossible. Prevention should be focused on altering knowledge, attitude and behaviors in order to be successful.
Prevention efforts could include:
- Reduction of body dissatisfaction
- Addressing and treating depression and/or anxiety
- Improving self-esteem, especially in regards to physical appearance
- Replacing dieting with intuitive eating practices
- Increasing appreciation for the body’s functionality
- Emphasizing a non-appearance focused definition of self
The most common types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. However, there are additional disordered eating patterns that include otherwise specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED), avoidant restrictive food intake disorders (ARFID), Pica, rumination disorder, orthorexia, compulsive exercise and diabulimia.
Symptoms and warning signs vary between individuals and eating disorders, but can include:
- Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams and dieting
- Skipping meals or taking small portions of food at regular meals
- Appearing uncomfortable eating around others
- Extreme mood swings
- Feeling cold all the time
- Impaired immune function
- Noticeable fluctuations in weight
If you or someone you know may be currently suffering from an eating disorder, trust that there is hope for living happily and healthy after proper treatment. Please visit www.anad.org or www.nationaleatingdisorders.org for more information regarding symptoms and treatment options.