A lot of different things cause eating disorders. And, despite what most people think, it’s not just about food. Eating disorders are both mental and physical health problems. That’s why they can’t usually be fixed without the help of trained medical and psychiatric professionals.
In extreme circumstances, eating disorders can result in various severe complications and even death if left untreated. In fact, eating disorders are one of the most dangerous mental conditions that we face today.
What Is Eating Disorder?
An eating disorder is a range of mental illnesses defined by abnormal or disturbed eating patterns. These illnesses can damage a person’s physical health, mental health, and ability to get along with others.
Most of the time, eating disorders are caused by an unhealthy obsession with one’s weight, body, and food. This fixation can cause you to act in ways that make it hard for your body to get the nutrients it needs.
Eating disorders usually start when people are in their teens or early 20s, but they can happen at any age. An eating disorder can happen to anyone. And it can affect people of all ages, races, genders, and socioeconomic statuses.
What Are The Three Causes Of Eating Disorders?
People are more likely to have a mental illness if someone in their family has had one. This usually happens even if the mental illness is not an eating disorder.
Some genes might make them more likely to have an eating disorder. Because of this, eating disorders can show in more than one generation of the same family. If someone in your family is diagnosed with an eating disorder, you are more likely to show signs of having one yourself.
But research doesn’t show that there is a single eating disorder gene or that genes cause disorders. It’s just that some people get traits like fear, anxiety, or perfectionism from their parents that can lead to eating disorders. These moody traits have also been linked to several other mental health problems.
Every person is born with a unique mix of traits and tendencies. Having an eating disorder is often caused by the need to reach a certain level of excellence. So, people who are easily hurt by jokes about their weight are more likely to get an eating disorder.
Stressful events in life, like going to college, or big changes in the family, like a divorce or death, can also raise the risk. If you don’t have a healthy way to deal with stress, it can lead to unhealthy eating habits.
People with eating disorders are more likely to have the following traits:
- Low self-worth
- Body image obsession
- Enhanced sensitivity
- High reactivity to stress
- Stress and anxiety due to a low tolerance for discomfort
Additionally, either past or present trauma makes it more likely that someone will have negative ideas about food and eating. Some people use extreme dietary restrictions or binge eating to deal with difficult feelings like guilt, helplessness, and fear.
Eating disorders can be caused by things in the environment, like how the family works or how people interact with each other. Because a person’s thoughts are shaped by what their family thinks and says about weight, food, and how they see themselves.
Eating disorders are also linked to the social views that people pick up from their friends, social media, and TV. We are constantly surrounded by photoshopped pictures that show unattainable standards of beauty. So, there is a lot of pressure to fit into narrow beauty standards, stressing that low body fat percentages are the best.
Teenagers are more likely to be hurt by social media because their minds aren’t fully developed, and they don’t have many ways to deal with problems. High achievers or people who strive for perfection may be more likely to believe that “thin is beautiful.”
What Are The Three Common Types Of Eating Disorders?
The most well-known eating disorder is probably anorexia nervosa. People with anorexia often think they are fat, even though they may be dangerously underweight. They will limit the amount of food they eat to stay a certain size.
People with anorexia are terrified of gaining even a little bit of weight. So they can starve themselves by going on strict diets and working out a lot. Some people with anorexia also do things to get rid of food, like throwing up a lot or misusing laxatives.
This is most likely to happen to teenagers and young adults. Also, it happens more often to women than to men. But boys and men are getting more and more eating disorders these days. This could be because more people are putting pressure on them.
A lot of LGBTQ+ teens and young adults also have eating disorders. More than half of LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 have been told at some point that they have an eating disorder.
People with anorexia often have a distorted view of their bodies and think they are overweight when they are not. They could only eat small amounts of certain foods and keep track of their calories all the time.
Symptoms of Anorexia
Early signs of anorexia are often missed because the disease moves so slowly. Here are some signs that a person has anorexia:
- Intense fear of weight gain
- Extreme weight loss
- Trying to hide weight loss by wearing loose, bulky clothes
- Food obsession by counting calories
- Very restricted dieting
- Refusing to eat some foods, like carbs or fats
- Denying their hunger
- Trying not to eat at mealtimes or in front of other people
- Putting together fancy meals for other people but not eating them
- Exercising excessively
- Putting you down for being “fat”
- Stopped menstruating
- Having trouble going to the bathroom or having stomach pain
- Saying that being too thin isn’t a problem
When asked about their eating habits, people with anorexia usually say that there is no problem. Because they are trying to hide their illness, it may get worse before anyone notices there is a problem.
When a person doesn’t eat for a long time, it can lead to many health problems. How bad these effects are will depend on how long the eating disorder is. The longer the abnormal behavior goes on, the worse it gets. Some of these impacts may be able to go away if they are treated quickly and safely, but not all of them.
Effects of Anorexia
Some of the damaging effects of anorexia are:
- Heart damage
- Weak bones
- Poor reproductive health
- Dental decay or losing teeth
- Receding gums
- Hair loss
- Dry or yellow skin
- Muscle weakness
- Low blood sugar
- Kidney damage
- Changes in brain structure
When someone has bulimia nervosa, they have episodes when they eat a large amount of food. During a binge, a person usually feels like they have no control over what they eat or how much they eat. Anyone can binge on anything, but people typically do it with the food they usually avoid.
It is then followed by purging, an unhealthy way to get rid of the calories they have eaten. People with bulimia will make themselves throw up or take laxatives to get rid of the food. They may also work out too much to make up for how much they eat.
Some of the symptoms may be the same as those of anorexia. However, people with bulimia tend to keep an average weight instead of losing a lot of it.
Symptoms of Bulimia
The signs and symptoms of bulimia may include:
- Obsession with one’s body shape and weight
- Fear of gaining weight
- Multiple instances of consuming abnormally huge amounts of food at a single sitting
- Using laxatives, diuretics, or enemas after a meal
- Fasting, calorie restriction, or avoiding specific foods between binges
- Excessive use of dietary supplements or herbal products for weight loss
Effects of Bulimia
Bulimia can lead to some problems, such as:
- Terrible self-esteem
- Relationship and social functioning difficulties
- Dehydration, which can lead to serious medical issues such as kidney failure
- Heart difficulties, including irregular heartbeat and heart failure
- Severe dental and gum disease
- Absent or irregular menstruation
- Digestion difficulties
- Anxiety and depression
- Personality disorders or manic-depressive illness
- Abuse of alcoholic beverages or illicit drugs
- Self-harm and suicidal tendencies
Binge Eating Disorder
A person has a binge eating disorder if they regularly eat large amounts of food in a short time. And this has been happening for at least six months, at least twice a week.
People with binge eating disorder don’t throw up or do anything else extreme to lose weight. But they might feel bad, ashamed, or guilty about what they did. They may also be upset about how they look after eating, which can make their hopelessness and depression worse.
Almost everyone sometimes overeats. This usually happens on special occasions when there are more chances to eat. The line is crossed into binge eating disorder when the person’s overeating is out of control and happens all the time.
People with binge eating disorder might feel bad about how much they eat and want to break the cycle. But they feel like they have to eat and can’t stop.
Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder
Even though most people with binge eating disorder are overweight, some may be at a healthy weight. Some signs of binge eating disorder in terms of how people act and how they feel are:
- Consuming huge amounts of food in a short length of time
- Out-of-control eating habits
- Doesn’t stop eating even when full
- Eating too quickly when in a binge episode
- Having feelings of humiliation about eating, so they tend to eat alone or in secret
- Avoiding normal social events and activities
The cycle of binge eating, strict dieting, and then binge eating again is what binge eating disorder is. Even though it doesn’t involve corrective behaviors, binge eating disorder is just as dangerous as any other eating disorder.
Effects of Binge Eating Disorder
The negative effects that happen when you have a binge eating disorder are:
- Facial acne
- Hair loss
- Low energy and sleepiness
- Acid reflux and heartburn
- Chronic stomach discomfort
When To See A Doctor?
An eating disorder might be hard to control on your own. Moreover, having an eating disorder can make almost everything hard to do. You should see a doctor if you have signs of an eating disorder or think you might have one.
People with eating disorders often don’t want to admit they have a problem or that they need help. If you worry about a loved one’s health, tell them to see a doctor.
Opening the conversation by showing a willingness to listen can also help. Even if your loved one isn’t ready to admit they have a problem, taking action will help keep things from getting worse.
Some things in a person’s environment can make it more likely that they will get an eating disorder. So, positive environmental changes can help stop and treat eating disorders. For example, genes that make someone more likely to have anxiety could be counteracted by having warm, caring parents as a child.
A person with an eating disorder is not to blame for having it. There are too many risk factors for researchers to be able to point to a single cause of eating disorders.
If you think someone has an eating disorder, getting them checked out as soon as possible is very important. Most people with disorders will gain back the lost weight and feel better physically once they get treatment.