While growing up with a generation of people who are so prone to online bullying, harassment, and with a whole lot of traumatic events happening around the world, it is absolutely pertinent for us to shift our focus to our mental health. Eating disorders are one among the many that deserve urgency and awareness, because it takes something so inherent to human survival, that is eating, and dives deep into the shifts in eating patterns due to a disturbed mental headspace. In India, Eating Disorders still remains a taboo and even ignored subject despite the fact that body image issues are so deeply ingrained in our society.
What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating Disorders or ED are a range of psychological conditions that result in an unhealthy eating cycle. These disorders are a consequence of an ‘ideal body image’, or an obsession with food, or binge eating during times of stress. According to WebMD, Eating Disorders are the deadliest psychiatric disorders, and their diagnosis and treatment are overlooked tremendously. While they affect people of all genders, and ages, eating disorders are commonly found in teenagers, and men who find it harder to seek treatment, and feel the need to adhere to unsaid societal expectations.
What causes Eating Disorders?
While there can be multiple reasons for eating disorders, which can vary from person to person, genetics do play a rather large role in passing these disorders to the next generation. Personality is yet another major factor, wherein neuroticism, perfectionism, and impulsivity are traits that are linked to a higher risk of developing an eating disorder according to research done by Culbert, Klump, and Racine in 2015. There are not enough research studies based on Eating Disorders, but it is evident that media greatly influences the minds of the audiences, and may be a leading cause to many psychological disorders including ED. The media glorifies the ideal beauty standards so much so that people feel like there is only one type of a normal body. Society pays a few women to look a certain way so that the rest of us consciously make a decision and pay loads to look like that. It is a very remarkable business strategy, but a lot of people have recently raised their voice about it.
Hillary Duff, in an interview in 2010, stated, “I literally ate nothing but steamed vegetables and broiled or grilled chicken, with nothing else. I was touring at the time, traveling everywhere, and I felt so run down. Not giving your body enough of what it needs is really dangerous. I regret it because I don't think I was happy then.” Lady Gaga also has been very vocal about it. She captioned one of her Instagram posts like this: “Bulimia and anorexia since I was 15.” Another read, “But today, I join the BODY REVOLUTION. To inspire bravery…and BREED some M$therf*cking COMPASSION.”
How do you know if you, or someone you love has an eating disorder?
Not everyone exhibits the same symptoms, but some symptoms to look out for are:
- Primary concerns revolve around weight loss, dieting, and control over food
- Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fats, grams, and dieting
- Refusing to eat certain foods
- Uncomfortable eating in public
- Skipping meals or eating very small portions of food
- Frequent dieting, and emotional outbursts
- Obsessed with body size, shape, and appearance
4 Common Eating Disorders
- Anorexia Nervosa - People with Anorexia Nervosa think they are overweight even though they might be underweight, and these people tend to have restricted eating patterns, a relentless pursuit of a thin body, and an irrational fear of gaining weight. This can be lethal resulting in heart, brain or organ failures, and death.
- Bulimia Nervosa - People with Bulimia Nervosa eat massive amounts of food, because they tend to binge eat, but because of their irrational fear of gaining weight, they tend to vomit it all out, or find unhealthy ways to compensate for the calorie intake. In severe cases, bulimia tends to create an imbalance in levels of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and calcium, which can cause a stroke or heart attack.
- Binge Eating Disorder - This is the most common of all, because people with a Binge Eating Disorder tend to eat large portions of food in a small period of time, and then compensate through unhealthy exercising patterns. These people make food choices that are not nutritious at all, and thus might lead to type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, or a stroke.
- Pica - Pica is a peculiar eating disorder where people tend to eat things that are not edible at all, and this includes ice, dirt, soil, chalk, soap, paper, hair, cloth, wool, pebbles, laundry detergent, or cornstarch. While this seems bizarre, a lot of people tend to eat these objects because of underlying psychiatric disorders. Pica can lead to poisoning, infections, and even death depending on what is consumed.
How can you help someone with an eating disorder?
There are many ways in which you can help people with eating disorders, but you must remember that relapsing is a possibility, and to avoid that, you must offer constant support. A few things that you can try if you know someone with an eating disorder are listening to them irrespective of how non serious, unreasonable or illogical their problem might seem to you; it means something to them, and for that and that reason alone respect their story. Including people in activities is another thing that you can try, because eating disorders are a result of psychological conditions. These activities don’t have to be something big, they can be as little as cooking together, going out on a walk, and giving them the healthy space to be vocal about their lives in general. You can also try and conduct a few activities that will help build their self-esteem, because we all know it’s better to get our hands dirty now, than to regret once we lose our loved ones.