Have you always been famous for your 'strange' eating habits among your peers? If eating more than what you should or eating less than what's even acceptable is one of your habits then it might be time to see a doctor because chances are you are suffering from an eating disorder.
As per the definition, eating disorders are psychological disorders characterised by abnormal eating habits that have the ability to worsen an individual's physical or mental health. The symptoms include over-eating, characterised by over-stuffing the stomach by eating large amount of food in a short span of time or eating too less, thus having a low body weight.
While nobody can deny that bad eating habits have some sort of a connection with these eating disorders, there are multiple psychological factors that impact an individual's eating habits. According to Dr Sandeep Goyal, Psychiatrist at Christian Medical College & Hospital, "Depression and social phobia are present in 2/3rd and 1/3rd of patients and these disorders begrange.ound mid-teens."
Elaborating on 'anorexia nervosa' or lack/loss of appetite, Dr Goyal adds, "This condition is characterized by three features. First is self-induced starvation that leads to weight loss. Second is extreme fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, but this intense fear of becoming fat is not alleviated by weight loss. Third is disturbance in self-perceived weight or shape."
There are broadly two types of anorexia nervosa - food restricting category and purging category and there's hope for such patients, provided they are willing to be treated. "The first step towards the treatment is to restore patient's nutritional status, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Most patients are uninterested in psychiatric treatment and even resist it. But patients must be conditioned well to be treated with various types of psychotherapies (cognitive behaviour therapy and family therapy) and medicines. Treatment of co-morbid depression is also another way of getting back to normalcy," explains Dr Goyal.
Bulimia nervosa, on the other hand, is characterized by eating amounts of food that is larger than most can eat in a similar period of time, under similar circumstances, showing lack of control over eating during the episodes. It is also accompanied by inappropriate compensatory behaviours in order to control weight such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives and excessive exercise.
According to doctors, bulimia is more common in females than males and since most of the patients don't require hospitalization, it can be easily treated with cognitive behaviour therapy and medicines.
Speaking of deep-rooted psychological disturbances, it is noticed that individuals affected with this disorder frequently suffer from constant emotional turmoils. "People suffering from eating disorders are often very conflicted and feel that controlling their bodies is the only way they can achieve stability as they can't control their environment," says Dr Parul Tank, psychiatrist, Care24. These people also have a tendency of self-harm and they often come from dysfunctional families and may suffer from anxiety or depression, she adds.
Dr Parul suggests that the best way of treating such disorders is counselling the sufferers to accept themselves as they are.
According to people from the medical community, the biggest challenge facing them is the fact that people have started self treatment of various disorders and eating disorder is certainly one of them. Mumbai based nutritionist Karishma Chawla of Eat Rite 24x7, warns that individuals should be wary of indulging in self diagnosis and treatment because of the disorder's immensity. "People suffering from an eating disorder typically need help from someone trained specifically in this field. While most untrained individuals think that eating disorders are solved by talking out or by changing your thinking, there is no single solution. This is because there is no single cause of disordered eating. The etiology of disordered eating is multi-factoral with social, familial and genetic links. An individual with disordered eating isn't just having problems with food; they typically have problems with their body image, have ineffective nutritional coping strategies, have low self esteem, have no feeling of personal identity and have a lack of perceived control."
In order to break down the hard to comprehend disorder into simple terms, Karishma lists out some pointers to explain it and its treatment.
1. Low self esteem
2. Feeling of inadequacy
3. Lack of control in life
4. Depression, anger, anxiety and loneliness
5. Troubled relationships - family and personal
6. Trouble expressing emotions
7. History of being mocked about body weight
8. History of physical abuse
9. Narrow definitions of a good body
2. Checking on vitamin status. For example, individuals who have been avoiding animal foods may be deficient in B12 and supplementation is most helpful.
3. Establishing a normal pattern of food intake
4. Encouraging a nutritional intake appropriate to the individual needs
5. Maintaining body weight in accordance to the normal range.