People assume eating disorders are connected only to food and diet, but they are complicated mental health issues that require professional attention. Eating disorders are outlined in the American Psychiatric Association‘s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Here in the United States, 28 million people are either currently living with an eating disorder or have recovered from one.
How do we define an eating disorder? This article will take a closer look.
The APA categorizes eating disorders as psychological conditions that manifest with unhealthy eating habits. They are typically initiated with a disproportionate obsession with food – but also body shape or body weight. In the most severe circumstances, eating disorders can have serious consequences and may even cause death if not treated properly.
Fast Fact: Eating disorders are second only to opioid overdose in the number of fatalities associated with mental health.
Symptoms of Eating Disorders
Those with eating disorders can exhibit a wide variety of symptoms, including severely restricting food intake, binging and purging behaviors, or participating in excessive exercise.
Each eating disorder results in symptoms specific to that condition, but each involves a fanatical focus on food and an unhealthy, unrealistic view of weight. This obsessive preoccupation makes it challenging to concentrate on other elements of their life. If you are concerned that a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, look for these psychological signs:
- Excessive and dramatic weight loss
- Offering frequent excuses for avoiding meals
- Dramatic limitations on types of food they will eat
- Development of strange “rituals” around eating
- Cooking for others but not eating with them
- Refusal to eat in public
- No indication of ever being hungry
- Unhealthy preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams, or dieting
- Cripping fear of weight gain or being “fat”
- Constantly weighing themselves
- Obsession with “burning calories” and excessive exercise.
Those living with eating disorders also manifest physical symptoms, including:
- Recurring bouts of constipation, stomach cramps, or abdominal pain
- Episodes of cold intolerance, fatigue, or excess energy
- Skipped menstrual periods
- Atypical test results such as low thyroid, anemia, low potassium, slow heart rate, low blood cell count, or irregular hormone levels
- Dizziness or fainting spells
- Sleep disorders and irregularities
- Dry skin and thinning hair and nails
- Muscle weakness
- Inadequate wound healing
- Compromise immune function (getting sick often)
What are the Root Causes of Eating Disorders?
Mental health professionals cite many factors that may contribute to developing eating disorders.
Genetics is thought to play a role in these disorders, as individuals prone to them tend to have a sibling or parent who also lived with the condition. Personality traits also contribute – specifically neuroticism, perfectionism, and impulsivity. In recent years, experts have postulated that differences in biology, brain structure, and serotonin and dopamine levels are integral to these disorders. However, this hypothesis requires more scientific research.
Cultural and societal pressures are also seen as a trigger for eating disorders. Perceived beauty standards and ideal weight are all over television and movies, and social media sites often present an unrealistic view of other people’s “perfect” lives. This causes many people to impose unrealistic personal standards on themselves.
When people are coping with an eating disorder, they need to change their thought patterns regarding eating, but they also have underlying psychological issues that must be addressed. Calling a mental health counselor is a meaningful first step if you or a loved one wants to experience freedom from an eating disorder.
Denise Schonwald is a nationally certified mental health counselor. Her professionalism, compassion, and availability have successfully led clients across the country to peace of mind, health, and healing. Call today to learn more.