When you think about eating disorders, the word anorexia springs to mind.
Unfortunately, due to a lack of mental health awareness, very few people actually understand what eating disorders are, with many asserting that certain people choose this as a lifestyle simply because they want to lose weight or alter their body.
However, unbeknownst to many, eating disorders are actually psychological illnesses that can seriously affect a person’s health; both physical and mental. Wikipedia defines an eating disorder as
‘…a mental disorder defined by abnormal eating habits that negatively affect a person’s physical or mental health.’
While many think that refusing to eat is the only indication of an eating disorder, the problem goes far and beyond our rudimentary understanding.
Types of Eating Disorders
The following are some known types of eating disorders:
- Anorexia nervosa
- Bulimia nervosa
- Purging disorder
- Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder
- Rumination syndrome
- Orthorexia Nervosa
- Prader-Willi syndrome
- Night eating syndrome
Notice how the list of eating disorders isn’t simply restricted to anorexia and bulimia but goes beyond that, indicating that there are more signs and symptoms to look out for than simply not eating. In this particular article, we will be discussing anorexia and bulimia nervosa since it is easy to neatly categorize this as a cluster of symptoms; other eating disorders can be best diagnosed by a psychiatrist.
Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders
The following are some signs and symptoms you should look out for if you suspect a loved one is suffering from anorexia or bulimia. Try not to ask prying questions which may cause discomfort and undue stress to the patient in question; subtlety and tact are the keys to making sure your questions aren’t intrusive and distressing.
People suffering from anorexia view themselves as overweight and are continuously struggling with body-image issues, even when they weigh dangerously less than what they should. They obsessively weigh themselves which obviously does more harm than good. The symptoms of anorexia are as follows:
- Restricted eating
- Emaciation (extreme thinness)
- Overly conscious of diet and weight
- Fear of gaining weight even when the person is dangerously thin
- Denial of body weight, low self-esteem that stems from their perception of their body and its shape.
Other symptoms include anemia, lethargy, osteoporosis, weak nails and hair, yellowish skin, constipation, respiratory troubles and in severe cases, brain damage coupled with multiorgan failure.
Those suffering from bulimia exhibit different symptoms; they are not underweight and appear perfectly healthy – except when they have episodes where they end up eating large amounts of food. Binge-eating makes them feel as if things are going to spiral out of control which leads them to compensate for this behavior by making themselves throw up the food or get rid of it, by using diuretics, laxatives etc. The signs and symptoms of bulimia are as follows:
- Chronic inflammation and soreness of throat
- Salivary glands are unusually swollen
- Tooth enamel is worn and often decaying due to repeated contact with stomach acid.
- Gastrointestinal problems.
- Side-effects associated with excessive use of laxatives
Remember that many people die each year from this mental illness than any other, either of starvation or from suicide. When you broach the subject with someone who seems to be suffering from it but refrains from getting any help, remember not to make them feel helpless with your queries, in fact, avoid asking irrelevant questions but listen to them and try to comfort as best as you can, your support means more than your counseling.
Sometimes simply listening can make a great deal of difference in someone’s life.