Eating disorders are complex. Anyone can find themselves suffering from an eating disorder, regardless of age, race, gender or sexual orientation. However, these disorders are more commonly diagnosed in teenagers and young adults. There are many forms of eating disorders and they affect a larger number of the population then is commonly known.
Most eating disorders are typically found more often in young women and teen girls, but that doesn’t necessarily conclude that teen boys and adult males don’t fall prey to eating disorders as well. In fact, one in every four children diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are boys. Bulimia nervosa is diagnosed more often in females, but a similar number of males and females are diagnosed with binge-eating disorder.
While it’s less common to hear about males suffering from an eating disorder, they’ve been proven to be prone to specific risk factors, including:
- being overweight or obese as a child
- taking part in sports that focus on being lean or muscular (i.e., runners, jocks, wrestlers, bodybuilders)
- a job that requires them to look a certain way (actor, model, dancer)
Factors that may lead to the development of an Eating Disorder:
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of Inadequacy
- Feeling loss of control over life
- Struggling with depressed mood
- History of anxiety
- Anger and impulsivity
- Feelings of loneliness
- Experiences of rejection
- Conflictual family and personal relationships
- Difficulty expressing feelings and emotions
- Being teased and ridiculed based on size and weight
- Victim of sexual and/or physical abuse
Below are a few examples:
Melissa, 33 – In her early 20’s, an emotionally abusive partner told her that she was fat, had to go to the gym, and didn’t look good naked. She went on a diet to prove him wrong – and it spun out of control and turned into an eating disorder. After her friends expressed their concern, she sought help from her doctor and a dietitian. Today, Melissa works within the field of eating disorders and body image. She considers herself in ED recovery and mindfully manages her eating disorder daily.
Jim, 45 – He thought that being a good husband to his wife meant he needing to keep things from her by not expressing needs, desires or concerns. This resulted in extreme anxiety and isolation for Jim. He encouraged his wife to express herself, all the while he was becoming more and more introspective and insular. Jim focused on his body as an outlet – he saw folds of fat, long after he had lost any excess weight. His family grew concerned about his obsession with his physical appearance and how it was affecting his relationship with his wife and children.
Sara, 35 – She had struggled with accepting her weight and experienced low self-esteem since high school. One day during school, she was watching a talk show about eating disorders. The guests described in detail how to binge & purge – she decided to try it for herself. Sara found that the act of forcing herself to throw up made her feel calm, confident and relieved. By age 22, bulimia controlled her life. After realizing how much weight she had lost and countless heart wrenching talks with her family, she finally decided to see a therapist and get the help she needed.
Classifications of Eating Disorders
- Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by significant weight loss, difficulty managing a healthy weight, a distorted body image.
- Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors (e.g. self induced vomiting, using laxatives, excessive exercise)
- Binge-Eating Disorder is the most prevalent eating disorder, characterized by frequent episodes of binge eating or compulsive overeating. These episodes involve eating large amounts of food in a shorter period of time than one would normally consume. The uncontrollable feelings brought on by binging are usually followed by guilt or shame.
- Orthorexia is an obsession with proper or ‘healthful’ eating. Although being aware of and concerned with the nutritional quality of the food you eat isn’t a problem in and of itself, people with orthorexia become so fixated on so-called ‘healthy eating’ that they actually damage their own well-being.
What are the signs to look for?
The most common signs of eating disorders are:
- Distorted or excessively negative body image
- Compensating behaviors (e.g. purging, over-exercise)
- Avoiding social engagements that involve food
- Excessive weight loss, rapid weight loss
- Odd eating habits: binge eating or eating very little, eating in secrecy or hiding/hoarding food
- Patterns around food or weight cause substantial decrease in overall life functioning or enjoyment
- Changes in energy level: lower than normal or extremely high, over-exertion or striving for perfectionism
The good news is that recovery is possible! Most cases of eating disorders can be treated successfully by a mental health professional and trained dietitian that specializes in Eating Disorder recovery. The causes of eating disorders vary for each individual based on their situation. Working to treat one’s core emotional issues is essential for the overall treatment process.