Karen Carpenter was an American singer and drummer in the 1970s group The Carpenters. She died after losing a long battle with anorexia nervosa, one of the most commonly known eating disorders.
Since that time, there have been great advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders, but myths about them still persist.
Many people believe that an eating disorder is when a person, usually a young girl, just won’t eat enough food. Perhaps that person exercises excessively (often losing a drastic amount of weight in a short period of time), or eats too much food and then vomits on purpose.
However, eating disorders affect more than just young girls, and include a wide variety of food and eating issues. In fact, millions of Americans suffer from eating disorders, and anyone can be affected. In the United States, a 2011 study determined that 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their lives.
Eating disorders are mental health conditions, according to The American Psychiatric Association. Eating disorder categories include:
- Anorexia Nervosa, in which a person is not consuming enough calories, which leads to a significantly low body weight.
- Bulimia Nervosa, which is recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by fasting, self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise or use of laxatives, diuretics or other medications.
- Binge Eating Disorder.
- Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, an eating or feeding disturbance where a person is unable to meet their nutritional or energy needs.
- Pica, in which a person eats substances that have no nutritional value.
- Rumination Disorder, in which a person repeatedly regurgitates food, which includes re-chewing, re-swallowing or spitting out food.
For definitions of the eating disorders listed above, go to http://bit.ly/2g4arkK
For people who may be struggling with an eating disorder, and for their friends and families, it can be difficult to know how to recognize when there’s a problem. A person suffering from an eating disorder may display one or many signs or symptoms of an eating disorder, but it’s important to remember that you cannot tell just from a person’s appearance whether they have an eating disorder.
Some signs and behaviors of an eating disorder:
- A preoccupation with weight, exercise and/or calories
- Chronic dieting with or without weight loss
- Drastic weight loss or gain
- Significant decrease or increase in food intake
- Concern with feeling fat, even if underweight
- Wearing baggy clothes to hide body shape
- Fear of not being able to control eating
- Refusing to eat with the family or in social situations
- Hiding food, eating in private
- Denying a food or eating problem is present, despite concerns of friends or family
- Eating large amounts of food, followed by trips to the bathroom, sometimes running water to hide the sound of vomiting
- Bruised or callused knuckles, bloodshot eyes, dark color under eyes
- Restrictive eating
- Compulsive eating and/or exercise
- Abusing diet pills and/or laxatives
- Hair loss, sunken eyes, pale skin
- Medical complications like loss of menstrual cycle, electrolyte imbalances, low body temperature, low blood pressure
All forms of eating disorders can lead to severe medical complications and even death, so it is critical that anyone who is showing signs or symptoms of an eating disorder get professional help. Getting treatment for an eating disorder in the early stages provides the best chance for a full recovery.
If you or someone you care about is affected by an eating disorder, you can get help at The Emily Program in Lacey. Contact them at 888-EMILY-77 (888-364-5977) or www.emilyprogram.com
For ideas about how to talk to someone about eating disorder concerns, watch this video from the National Eating Disorders Association: https://youtu.be/fX1CFDtdgbY.