If asked this question your answer would probably be –“obviously I eat to live. Who lives to eat anyways!” but think about this question for a moment. Do we really eat to live?
Think about the times when you got a craving for pizza and begged dad to order it for you, or the time when you saw a new Maggi flavour advertisement and rushed to the market to try it out. The days when you say you are not hungry but still have space for ice cream. There has always been a day or two when the temptation of junk food lures you in. At that time your hunger is not ruling, instead, the tongue is.
These days food has become a source of pleasure for the tongue and not a biological need for energy. Pretty marketing techniques continue to fan this lure of temptation. If you do not believe it, then go check in your kitchen. How much food do you really need and how many snacks were only brought because you saw it in an ad and wanted to try them?
Slimming tea, low-fat foods, diet cornflakes, you name it, it’s all on the TV marketed with perfect models for you to compare yourselves to and find lacking. People in previous times never would have thought food would become the cause of disorders.
Nourishment turned into a curse
Eating disorders are caused due to a number of reasons. Researchers are finding that eating disorders are caused by a complex interaction of genetic, biological, behavioural, psychological, and social factors. Social factors becoming the primary cause nowadays.
Some common eating disorders are-
People suffering from anorexia nervosa have a severe fear of gaining weight. They have a distorted perception of body image and obsessively monitor what and how much they eat. Anorexics check their weight throughout the day and find themselves to be overweight even when they are severely underweight. To maintain the ‘perfect body’ they exercise too much, use laxatives and food aids. This disorder has the highest mortality rate and people often die of heart failure, bone and muscle loss, brain damage, suicide and starvation.
Symptoms of anorexia are-
• Extremely restricted eating
• Extreme thinness (emaciation)
• A relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight
• Intense fear of gaining weight
• Thinning of the bones
• Mild anaemia and muscle wasting and weakness
• Brittle hair and nails
• Dry and yellowish skin
• The growth of fine hair all over the body
• Severe constipation
• Low blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse
• Damage to the structure and function of the heart
• Brain damage
• Multi-organ failure
• Drop in internal body temperature, causing a person to feel cold all the time
• Lethargy, sluggishness, or feeling tired all the time
People with bulimia nervosa have bouts of overeating and then compensation for it by forced vomiting. These binge eating episodes are usually due to stress or emotional eating and include consuming unusually large amounts of food. People with this kind of disorder usually maintain a healthy or normal weight. Vomiting, however, is not the only method of purging. Excessive exercise, laxative use, enemas, fasting, or a combination of purging methods are common alternatives to vomiting.
Continuous and forced purging to maintain weight puts the body under a lot of stress.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the heart is not built to withstand laxative use or daily vomiting. This type of stress may cause arrhythmia, heart palpitations, heart attacks, or death.
• Chronically inflamed and sore throat
• Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area
• Worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth as a result of exposure to stomach acid
• Acid reflux disorder and other gastrointestinal problems
• Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
• Severe dehydration from purging of fluids
• Electrolyte imbalance (too low or too high levels of sodium, calcium, potassium and other minerals) which can lead to stroke or heart attack
Binge eating disorder commonly includes overeating/ consuming unusually large amount of food and feeling out of control and unable to stop. People with this disorder use food as a coping mechanism thus getting stuck in a vicious cycle. Unlike bulimia, binge eating disorder does not include forced vomiting thus, resulting in overweight and obese victims.
• Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time
• Eating even when you’re full or not hungry
• Eating fast during binge episodes
• Eating until you’re uncomfortably full
• Eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment
• Feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about your eating
• Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss
Eating disorders are commonly caused by unrealistic body image or emotional imbalance. Therefore, the treatments are directed towards changing the person’s perception and learning constructive coping mechanisms. The first step is diagnosing the problem and suggesting the best treatment techniques for the individual.
• Psychotherapies are an effective way to target destructive beliefs and behaviours. Cognitive behaviour therapy is a way to identify the cause of disorder to unlearn and relearn effective coping mechanisms. Individuals are encouraged to deal with stress in a healthy way, know the triggers of the disorder and normalise their eating habits.
• There is also family-based therapy where the families of individuals are made aware of eating disorders and encouraged to act as a support system until the individual can manage it herself/himself.
• Group-based therapies are one that lets the individual interact with other people suffering from the same kind of disorder. The people share their stories of struggle and how they overcame it. the sessions are conducted along with a psychologist and individuals are free to share their beliefs, perceptions and problems without the fear of judgment.
• In some severe cases, individuals need to be rehabilitated in order to monitor their behaviour and intervene when necessary. Medications and nutritional education are some of the other ways to tackle eating disorders.
Eating disorders are just like any other physical illness, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. The unhealthy behaviour towards body, weight and food needs to be addressed. It is a common misconception that men are not affected by eating disorders. A disorder does not discriminate between genders and both men and women are victims of it. It is generally seen in young adults and teenagers. Social media and marketing campaigns have to stop spinning the rumour mill just to sell their products.
People need to come forward and take an active role in their treatment for it to stop being made a taboo and stigmatised. We need to talk about it for the misinformation and distorted beliefs to dissipate. The misconception of a perfect body needs to stop spreading. Food is the source of nourishment not a source of guilt and pain.
Eating disorders are an illness and NOT a lifestyle choice!