With the New Year comes the common resolution to eat healthier.
For some, however, this resolve to improve one’s diet may develop into something quite unhealthy—an eating disorder.
Thankfully, there is renewed attention to this challenge through a National Eating Disorder Awareness campaign.
A broad range of people suffer from eating disorders, including men, women, adults and children. It touches all races and ethnic backgrounds. For a family member or friend, recognizing symptoms of a possible eating disorder may be the first step in getting a person into treatment and onto the road to recovery.
Here’s how you can help recognize the symptoms of an eating disorder:
- Anorexia nervosa is characterized by extremely low body weight, intense fear of weight gain and a distorted perception of body image. Symptoms can include rigid eating patterns and avoidance of whole categories of foods, in-depth knowledge of the calorie content of foods, social withdrawal and moodiness, low self-esteem, and perfectionistic attitudes. Physical symptoms beyond low body weight include lanugo (fine, soft hair covering the body), weakness, anemia, abnormal heart rhythm and sleep disturbances.
- Bulimia nervosa is characterized by a cycle of binging on large amounts of food and then engaging in compensatory behaviors to counter the binge, such as self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives or excessive exercise. Individuals with bulimia are often within a normal or overweight body range. Symptoms include erosion on the enamel of teeth and ulcerations on the back of hands from self-induced vomiting. A pattern of strict dieting followed by a binge is common, though people with bulimia often hide eating from others.
- Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia in that there is a frequent pattern of consuming very large amounts of food, but without the compensatory purging behavior. Individuals with this disorder are typically overweight or obese and they often eat when they are not hungry, to escape from emotions such as anxiety or depression. They frequently diet and have an excessive preoccupation with food and body image. In both binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa, people often feel “out of control” when eating.
If you suspect you or someone you love may be suffering from an eating disorder, see a physician for a health evaluation. Diagnosis is vital in the journey to recovery.
Treatment typically includes a team approach with a physician, therapist and dietitian working with the patient to replace the destructive eating and thought patterns with healthier ones.