Eating Disorders : Symptoms, Types, Causes and Treatments

Eating Disorders : Symptoms, Types, Causes and Treatments

The intricate relationship between a person and their sustenance, known as an eating disorder, is a serious affliction of the mind. A troubled connection with food, characterized by distorted beliefs about physical appearance and a terror of gaining weight, fuels abnormal dietary practices. These could range from stringent restriction of food intake, excessive overeating, to binge eating. The repercussions of such disordered eating habits are dire and potentially fatal, with the risk of malnutrition, organ malfunction, and death all being heightened. Furthermore, these conditions also have the capacity to trigger other mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.

Signs of Eating Disorders

The symptoms of eating disorders differ from person to person, but common indicators include:

  • Drastic weight loss or inability to gain weight in adolescents or children
  • Obsessive thoughts about body weight and shape
  • Severely restricted food intake
  • Compulsive overeating or binge eating
  • Regular vomiting, excessive exercise, laxative or diuretic abuse for weight control
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Lack of control over eating
  • Menstrual irregularities in women.

Types of Eating Disorders

There are several different types of eating disorders

Eating disorders are mental conditions with distinct features and causes. There are 4 common types of eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, and Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).

  1. Anorexia Nervosa: A disorder marked by an extreme fear of weight gain and distorted body image, leading to severe food restriction and excessive exercise. Resulting malnutrition can cause physical and psychological issues. Diagnosed requires criteria such as intense weight phobia, altered body image, and failure to maintain healthy weight. Anorexia arises from a combination of genetics, biology, psychology, and societal pressure to be thin.

  2. Bulimia Nervosa: A disorder marked by recurrent binge eating followed by purging, fasting, or excessive exercise. Individuals with bulimia often maintain a healthy weight, or may be slightly overweight. Diagnosis requires criteria such as frequent binge eating, compensatory behaviors, and distorted body image. Bulimia also arises from a mixture of genetic, biological, psychological, and societal factors.

  3. Binge Eating Disorder: A disorder marked by frequent, compulsive overeating without weight control behaviors. Individuals with binge eating disorder can have a healthy weight, be overweight, or obese. Diagnosis requires criteria such as frequent binge eating, lack of control, and distress about eating habits. Binge eating disorder originates from a combination of genetic, biological, psychological, and societal factors.

  4. Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): A disorder marked by a limited range of foods due to disinterest or fear, leading to malnutrition and growth issues. Diagnosis requires criteria such as food avoidance, nutritional inadequacy, and weight loss/growth problems. ARFID develops from genetic, biological, psychological, and societal factors, including a history of trauma and familial eating disorders, as well as societal pressure to be thin.

Is "Diabulimia" Also Categorized as an Eating Disorder?

Diabulimia refers to the deliberate avoidance or reduction of insulin to achieve weight loss, a harmful practice among individuals with diabetes. The hormone insulin, produced by the pancreas, regulates glucose utilization in the body. Diabetes hinders glucose metabolism, necessitating insulin use to manage blood sugar levels.

However, skipping insulin dosages can result in elevated blood sugar levels, leading to life-threatening diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Long-term consequences include organ damage, neuropathy and heightened cardiovascular disease risk.

Despite being a major concern for diabetics, diabulimia isn't officially classified as an eating disorder. The development of the disorder is attributed to a confluence of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors including traumatic experiences, familial history of eating disorders and cultural emphasis on thinness.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders, a complicated mix of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental causes, pose questions.

Genetics could play a part in the onset of eating disorders. Research indicates that people with eating disorders often have a family member with a similar condition, pointing to the possibility of genetic factors.

Biological elements may contribute to eating disorders. Chemical imbalances in the brain, such as those of serotonin and dopamine, may trigger eating disorders. Hormonal imbalances and medical issues like diabetes or celiac disease could also be culprits.

Psychological factors also play a significant role in eating disorders. People with eating disorders often have distorted views of their body weight and shape and fear weight gain. Low self-esteem and traumatic experiences are common too.

Environmental factors contribute to eating disorders as well. Social pressure to be thin and exposure to cultural beauty standards may raise the risk of developing an eating disorder. Family relationships, life events, and stress can also impact.

The causes of eating disorders are not completely understood and can vary. A mix of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors is likely involved.

Preventing & Diagnosing Eating Disorders

While the exact causes of eating disorders are not fully understood, a mixture of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors contribute to their development. Nevertheless, some measures can be taken to decrease the risk of developing an eating disorder. Eating regularly and mindfully, avoiding strict diets, promoting body positivity and self-esteem, focusing on overall well-being instead of thinness, and prioritizing a healthy relationship with food are some of these steps.

Eating disorders are diagnosed by healthcare providers based on specific criteria, depending on the type of disorder. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder have their own sets of diagnostic criteria, including intense fear of weight gain, frequent binge eating, distorted body image, and so on. The healthcare provider will evaluate the individual's medical history, symptoms, and behavior, and may perform physical exams and lab tests to rule out other conditions.

An accurate diagnosis is crucial for receiving proper treatment. Eating disorders can be life-threatening, so it's essential to seek help from a healthcare provider if you suspect yourself or someone you know has an eating disorder.

Treatment for Eating Disorders 

Eating disorders demand a multifaceted approach in treatment, combining psychotherapy, medication, and nutritional guidance. The cure plan is tailored to the disorder and individual's necessities.

  • Talk Therapy

Talk therapy, a.k.a psychotherapy, is frequently used to treat eating disorders. This involves one-on-one sessions or group therapy where patients with eating disorders meet with a therapist and other sufferers. Talk therapy helps patients identify the root cause of their disorder and how to handle challenging emotions and scenarios in a healthy manner.

  • Meds

Medication is another tool for eating disorder treatment. Antidepressants, for instance, might be prescribed to regulate mood and decrease anxiety for patients. Other medications tackle symptoms like nausea or vomiting.

  • Nutritional Advice

Nutritional counseling is an integral aspect of eating disorder treatment. A registered dietitian assists patients in creating a healthy meal plan and understanding the significance of balanced meals, portion control, and nutritious eating habits.

  • The Maudsley Method

The Maudsley approach is a family-centered cure for eating disorders. This therapy involves the individual's parents or caretakers and aims to restore a healthy weight and nourishing relationship with food. The Maudsley method asserts that eating disorders stem from stress and the family plays a crucial role in the onset and persistence of the disorder.

The treatment progresses in three stages: weight recovery, healthy eating habits, and autonomous eating. In stage one, the emphasis is on restoring a healthy weight through structured meals and monitoring food and weight. Stage two centers on developing healthy eating habits with a dietitian's help and parental support. In stage three, the caretakers' involvement in meal planning and preparation decreases as the individual gains independence in eating habits.

Research supports the efficacy of the Maudsley method, particularly for younger individuals with eating disorders. Early treatment prevents serious health consequences and is provided by a healthcare team consisting of therapists, doctors, and dietitians.