Perhaps the most neglected in Pakistan, eating disorders (EDs) have been soaring at an all-time high, psychologically manifesting in the population as unhealthy eating patterns that can lead up to severe malnutrition or even death if left untreated— in fact, eating disorders are amongst the deadliest mental health disorders, second to only opioids overdose. People with societal pressure or severe unease regarding their food intake, body image, weight, and eating patterns are the most common targets of these disorders but, in our society, are often ignored until crucially in need of treatment. The most common symptoms of EDs include a restriction on food intake, loss of appetite, food binges, vomiting, and overexercising.
Here’s a short guide on the most common types of eating disorders and their symptoms:
1. Anorexia Nervosa
It’s probably the most well-known eating disorder. Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by self-starvation in order to achieve weight loss, resulting in a lower weight than the body’s required body mass index or BMI. Individuals with anorexia often consider themselves overweight even if they’re drastically underweight. Their dieting behavior is driven by an intense fear of gaining weight as they often tend to skip meals and avoid certain foods. Anorexia usually affects people who have a distorted view of their body image and who consider healthy body weight unwanted fat.
Over time, the following symptoms may develop:
Cessation of menstrual cycles
Severe constipation and bloating
Fatigue and anxiety
Dizziness and headaches
Thinning of bones
Treatment of anorexia involves getting psychiatric and nutritional help that focuses on individuals restoring their normal weight whilst working on accepting their healthy body fat. The nutritional plan focuses on spaced meals of a wide range of balanced foods to help counter the anxiety with calories and fat.
Severe anorexia is treated by admission to hospitals where in some cases patients with extreme food avoidance have to be fed by tubes. It is extremely important to treat anorexia in time as, if progressed, it can lead to organ failure and death.
2. Bulimia Nervosa
Bulima Nervosa is characterized by binge eating foods the person would usually avoid followed by ‘compensatory behaviors’ to overcome the binge. People with this disorder tend to alternate between low-calorie diets and binge-eating high-calorie food. Usually, each binge episode continues until the person ends up feeling uncomfortably full. The person often feels that they can’t control themselves during these eating episodes and end up purging by either induced vomiting or taking laxative pills to relieve gut discomfort. Besides purging, other compensatory behaviors can also include excessive exercise and fasting.
People with bulimia often show signs of inflamed and sore throat, and dental decay due to recurrent stomach acid contact, acid reflux, and swollen salivary glands. Although rare, severe cases of bulimia can lead to fatal cases of gastric ruptures and cardiac arrhythmias.
The treatment for bulimia nervosa is usually cognitive behavior therapy of the patient. This helps the patient to identify the root feelings and conceptions regarding food and body weight to help overcome the disorder, as further explained at psychiatry.org.
3. Binge Eating Disorder
It is the most common type of eating disorder. Like bulimia nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder also involves binge eating high-calorie foods with the person having little to no control during the episodes. But unlike bulimia, there are no compensatory behaviors (purging, vomiting, excessive pills, and exercise) following it. However, one of the symptoms does include the patient going through feelings of guilt, disgust, and depression after each binge episode.
Binge eating is progressive and chronic, and can lead to serious complications such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes if left unchecked.
Like bulimia nervosa, the treatment of binge eating disorders is mainly cognitive behavioral therapy.
4. Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder or ARFID is a disorder that involves extremely picky eating. Individuals with this disorder either do not have an interest in eating or are very picky eaters that are put off by the color, temperature, texture, smell, or taste of certain foods. ARFID develops from infancy and adolescence and can continue up to adulthood. It is important to keep in check for nutritional deficiencies that might develop from avoiding certain foods.
Treatment for ARFID includes forming an individualized plan that includes a mental health professional as well as a nutritionist.
Pica is an eating disorder that involves eating substances that provide zero nutritional value. The substances include things that aren’t considered ‘food’ such as tissue, rubber, paper, dirt, chalk, lead, etc. This disorder is generally found in people who are intellectually challenged, for example, people with an autism spectrum disorder or schizophrenia as mentioned in Pica/Healthline. Individuals with pica are at risk of toxic effects, such as poisoning, nutritional deficiencies, etc.
Treatments include tending to the nutritional deficiencies and strategies to change the eating habits of the patient.
6. Rumination Disorder
Rumination is a newly recognized disorder that includes the person chewing the food, spitting it out, and then eating it back again. This condition generally develops as infants but can continue to adolescence or even adulthood which then needs to be treated medically. If not resolved as infants, the condition can lead to severe malnutrition and can even be fatal.
Eating Disorders aren't something that just 'pass' over time. Hence, they aren't something to be taken lightly. It's essential to immediately get help for oneself or for someone displaying any symptoms of disorders. The treatment for these disorders usually requires professional psychological care to help patients grow out of unhealthy habits and conceptions about their bodies. It is never a shame to seek the help of therapists and rehabilitation centers to get treated because these disorders only grow worse in time. The earlier these are treated the more recoverable they are.
Zainab Waseem is an in-house writer at Perspective.
Find her on Instagram @lightash241