Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — Many people suffer from eating disorders, but according to experts, there are many misconceptions in this regard.
Eating disorders affect nearly 1 in 10 people worldwide, according to the nonprofit organization ANAD, which provides support services for people with these conditions.
In a culture where fat shaming and restrictive eating are common, it can become easy to normalize disordered eating behaviors, said Jennifer Rollin, founder of the Eating Disorders Center in Rockville, Maryland.
She added that these conditions threaten a happy and healthy life. As Eating Disorders Awareness Week kicks off, experts are sharing insights into what eating disorders are, what to look for, and what to do if you encounter one.
What defines an eating disorder?
“An eating disorder is a psychiatric disorder characterized by existing disturbances in eating and eating behavior that cause significant impairment in an individual’s ability to function normally,” said Stuart Murray, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at USC and director of translational research in the Eating Disorders Laboratory. .
Murray added that warning signs of the disorder include an overestimation of shape and weight, strict rules about food, scrutiny of ingredients, secrecy, and avoidance of social situations related to food and the body.
Specifically, eating disorders are psychosocial illnesses, said Leah Graves, vice president of nutritional and culinary services at Accanto Health, an eating disorder health system.
She added that inherited traits as well as psychological factors such as temperament and personality, and social factors such as bullying, stigma and trauma, all combine to contribute to someone developing an eating disorder.
Just because people may have an eating disorder in their families and may have genetic predispositions, Graves said, does not mean they will develop the disorder.
It is not an eating disorder
Lauren Smuller, vice president of mission and education for the National Eating Disorders Association, explained that eating disorders are not an option.
And she added that some may view people with eating disorders as simply changing their eating habits and then fixing them, but the problem is much deeper than that.
Murray of the University of Southern California said that eating disorders can affect anyone, explaining that attempts to modify the shape or weight associated with eating disorders are widespread and frequent, and have a significant impact on a person’s life.
Even if the behaviors don’t fall under a diagnosable eating disorder, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. Murray added that disordered eating is “a range of behaviors related to feeding and eating that differ from what is considered typical eating, and may cause serious disabilities and affect an individual’s ability to function normally.”
Anorexia nervosa is generally characterized by weight loss and usually includes severe restrictions on the number of calories eaten and an intense fear of gaining weight, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
Bulimia nervosa is a periodic condition in which a person binge eats and then compensates with purging behavior such as vomiting or taking laxatives, according to the association.
Murray explained that people with bulimia may use the bathroom immediately after eating a meal. He added that they may also use laxatives or diuretics.
Binge eating disorder
Binge eating is one of the most common forms of eating disorders. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that someone eats large amounts of food quickly, often with discomfort.
He added that it seems the same as what many of us do from time to time, especially on holidays or special occasions. He added that this disorder is characterized by a loss of control when it comes to eating, and this situation is surrounded by feelings of shame and secrecy.
Avoid a restrictive eating disorder
Avoidance-restrictive eating disorder, also known as ARFID, is one of the newer eating disorders recognized, said Graves of Accanto Health’s Graves.
Murray explained that this disorder is characterized by avoidance of food groups. He added that this condition may be misunderstood as “picky eating”, but it is a larger issue.
Rollin of the Eating Disorders Center notes that people with this disorder may show a lack of interest in eating, avoid certain sensory characteristics in food, or have concerns about the consequences of eating, such as vomiting or choking.
She added that people with avoidant or limiting eating disorder usually have a small selection of foods they feel comfortable eating, and become upset when they step out of that comfort zone.
Rollin added that it can cause problems with obtaining energy or meeting nutritional needs, and may lead to weight loss, stunted growth, or problems with psychosocial functioning.
Other feeding and eating disorders
An eating disorder, Smoller said, is a diagnosis given when someone has a significant eating disorder, but the behavior may not fully meet the diagnostic criteria for the conditions listed above.
There are also behaviors that are commonly discussed, but not yet diagnosed in the medical community.
Rollin explained that orthorexia, for example, is a term used to describe the focus on eating the way a person defines as healthy, but it is very rigid and can cause stress in situations where people have to deviate from their plans.
Murray said dysmorphia is a symptom of body dysmorphic disorder, but it often describes a pattern in which people have behaviors similar to anorexia or bulimia nervosa such as restricting calories, following strict rules, exercising hard, and also monitoring protein intake to achieve a muscular body. .
How do I get help?
If you see these troubling behaviors in someone you love, Graves said, have an emotional, non-judgmental conversation explaining the behaviors you notice.
Rollin said that if you’re concerned about your behavior, it’s important to seek professional help. She recommended reaching out to therapists who specialize in eating disorders, so they can make the necessary evaluation and recommendation.
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