What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders are serious medical conditions that need to be treated. The thoughts of those affected often revolve around the topics of food, body, and weight. Eating disorders can take many forms: anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. All forms of eating disorders have in common a disturbed eating behavior, which can result in damage to health.
Eating disorders are among the psychosomatic disorders and do not always have to be visible to the naked eye. Depending on the form of the disease, severe underweight or overweight can occur, but a normal weight is also possible. Disordered eating habits often come in mixed forms. Depending on the form of the disease, insufficient or excessive eating or measures to reduce weight can be life-threatening.
Not every person who occasionally overindulges in eating is seriously ill. And not everyone who has lost a lot of weight through dieting is anorexic. However, when other factors are involved, such behaviors can be the beginning of an eating disorder. The transition from conspicuous to pathological eating behavior is often insidious.
The disease affects the body and soul. Malnutrition can lead to muscle wasting, brittle bones, hair loss, no menstrual period, or loss of potency. A malnourished body is also less able to defend itself against infections. Prolonged vomiting damages teeth and esophagus. Eating disorders can be fatal, especially anorexia. Being overweight can cause joint pain, high blood pressure, or diabetes, for example. Other mental illnesses can accompany an eating disorder, such as depression.
Eating Disorder: Symptoms
Signs of an eating disorder are different for different types of eating disorders.
Eating Disorder Symptoms: Bulimia
Large portions are secretly and hastily devoured. Sufferers cannot control what and how much they eat; Feelings of guilt follow after binge eating; In order to get rid of the calories, those affected take countermeasures, for example vomiting, fasting, dieting, medication, or excessive sport.
- Normal weight, athletic appearance
- seemingly healthy diet
- less noticeable by body weight than other eating disorders.
- Regular, uncontrollable binge eating
- Fear of gaining weight
- weight-reducing measures
- Alternating between episodes of cravings and binge eating
- nutrient deficiency
- cracked mouth corner (Angular cheilitis)
- Teeth damaged by stomach acid
- “hamster cheeks” (increased production of saliva)
- Self-esteem heavily
- Shame, disgust, and guilt
Binge eating serves to regulate unwanted feelings such as fear, frustration, or anger. Like all eating disorders, bulimia often co-occurs with depression or substance abuse.
Food Addiction Symptoms: Binge Eating Disorder
Recurring binge eating without taking countermeasures: at least once a week in 3 months; feeling of hunger and satiety; Sufferers are often overweight or obese.
- Binge eating
- weekly or daily food cravings
- Gulping down large amounts of food
- Pleasure or hunger is not the focus
- Nausea or abdominal pain stop binge eating
- Feelings of guilt, shame, and disgust accompany the binge eating
In contrast to bulimics, people with binge eating disorders (eating addiction) do not take countermeasures such as vomiting, so obesity is a typical consequence. This leads to the development of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
These forms can also merge into one another. What they have in common is that they are associated with mental problems and low self-esteem. Many of those affected try unconsciously to solve their inner conflicts through their eating habits. The disease usually lasts several years.
It is characteristic of all eating disorders that changes in behavior are concealed and interests are neglected. Those affected often lack mental and physical strength. In many cases, they withdraw from family and friends.
Eating Disorder Symptoms: Anorexia (Nervosa)
Those affected suffer from being underweight due to severe weight loss, mainly through starvation, but also through vomiting, excessive exercise or medication such as laxatives; constant weighing and counting calories, terrified of gaining weight; Those affected feel overweight despite being underweight. Often, and especially at the beginning of the eating disorder, they do not understand that their behavior is pathological.
- Characterized by the urge to lose as much weight as possible and to control eating behavior.
- Self-esteem and well-being are mostly dependent on weight.
- Constant control and reduction of body weight
- Reduced or denied food intake
- Taking countermeasures after eating, such as vomiting, using laxatives, or exercising excessively
- cardiac arrhythmias
- Electrolyte and hormone imbalances
- Organ damage
Anorexia is one of the deadliest mental illnesses or eating disorders. Therapy is always necessary. Due to a lack of insight into the disease, many patients refuse therapy.
Eating Disorder: Causes and Diagnosis
Eating disorders usually develop in adolescence or early adulthood. It is estimated that more than one million children and adolescents show symptoms of eating disorders. The number of young men suffering from eating disorders has also risen sharply in recent years. Overall, the diseases appear at a younger age. Around 33% of 14- to 17-year-old girls show the first symptoms and warning signs of eating disorders. Typically, sufferers are 12-35 years old. Girls and young women are most commonly affected. Boys and men can also get it
Various causes play together in the development of eating disorders, such as biological, individual, familial, and sociocultural causes. Biological causes include the influence of hormones and genetic factors. Individual causes include a tendency toward perfectionism or a high demand for appearance, low self-esteem, or traumatic experiences. Family causes include, for example, a parent’s mental illness or the lack of positive role models. The socio-cultural causes include the ideal of beauty shaped by the media and comparisons with friends and the public.
To diagnose eating disorders, doctors, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists use weight and height, as well as the body mass index. A low BMI is typical for anorexia, and a high BMI for binge eating disorder. People with bulimia often have a BMI in the normal range. Questionnaires can be helpful in the diagnosis. Affected people are usually aware of their eating disorder, but only show an understanding of the disease at a late stage and refuse therapy. Self-tests, which can be carried out anonymously, can provide information about the presence of eating disorders. However, such a test never replaces a medical diagnosis.
Eating Disorder: Treatment
The aim of the treatment is to learn healthy eating habits and maintain them over the long term. This is to normalize and stabilize the weight. It is also important to recognize and treat physical and mental problems. In addition, those affected should receive support for social or family problems.
First of all, the affected person should know that they are sick and need help. You can rarely heal eating disorders yourself, but psychotherapy can be a good way to promote healing. cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the methods that show good results in the treatment of eating disorders. Because people with eating disorders react to stressful and emotional situations with disordered eating behaviors, therapy aims to teach them alternative coping strategies. In the case of young patients, in particular, it is important to include the family in the therapy. Relatives also learn to understand eating disorders and can therefore better support the person affected.
Nutritional therapy can also provide support in directing to normal eating habits, in which knowledge of a healthy diet, healthy nutrition, structured meals, and portion sizes can be learned.
Drugs are only used in isolated cases to treat binge eating in bulimia and binge eating disorders.
The treatment can take place at home with regular treatment appointments ( outpatient ) or in a clinic during the day and at home in the evening ( day clinic ) or in a clinic ( inpatient ). What matters depends on your personal situation.
If left untreated, an eating disorder is often permanent. It’s unclear how often it regresses on its own. The longer an eating disorder lasts, the more difficult it is to treat. But even a successfully treated eating disorder can come back later in life.
Be prepared that treating an eating disorder takes time and there can be relapses. Follow-up therapy is therefore important.
It’s not a failure if things don’t work out between you and your treatment team. Dare to address that.
Share your experiences with others, for example in a guided self-help group.