Eating Disorders: Exploring Its Many Tones
For non-artists, the color Blue has just one connotation; but for an artist, Blue has a whole spectrum of shades and hues– Sky Blue, Navy Blue, Cobalt Blue, Midnight Blue, and so on.
Eating disorders, too, have an array of sub-types. Although the base of all these branches is an unhealthy relationship with food and irregular eating patterns, they all have distinct features that draw a thin line among them.
Let us put these disorders under the microscope and acquaint ourselves with their nuances!
1. Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia nervosa inclines a person to develop a distorted body image and highly rigid and malformed notions of weight. The person becomes obsessed with losing weight and is constantly haunted by the thought of ‘gaining weight’ even if they are size zero. They invariably consider themselves ‘overweight’.
Rejecting particular food, reducing calorie and food quantity, recurrently weighing oneself, and having an abnormally low weight are all the signs of an Anorexic person.
A few also have trouble eating in public and their mind is always preoccupied with calculating food and counting calories.
Anorexia nervosa sufferers are at a high risk of serious medical issues stemming from starvation. They also become vulnerable to developing suicidal tendencies!
Other physiological manifestations include:
Osteoporosis (thinning of bones), fragile nails and hair
Anaemia and Muscle wasting
Low Blood Pressure
Reduction in pulse rate and breathing
Fall in body temperature and feeling cold
Anorexia nervosa generally takes two forms:
Restrictive: Involves excessively limiting calories through dieting, fasting, or extreme exercise, resulting in weight loss.
Binge-purge: In this type, apart from restrictive eating, people also have binge-purge episodes. They may quickly eat enormous amounts of food and then throw up using laxatives/diuretics or self-induced vomiting.
2. Bulimia Nervosa
The most common behavior of Bulimia is recurrent episodes of binging and purging (i.e. eating excessive food and vomiting to throw out the ‘extra’ calories). The amount of food ingested is unusually enormous.
The person often loses control while eating and feels uncomfortably full, uneasy, and ashamed. Then they indulge in forced and self-induced puking with the help of laxatives/diuretics, starving, or a punishing workout session to ‘compensate’ for the calories consumed. Using laxatives also causes intestinal distress.
Although identical to binge-purge Anorexia nervosa, people with Bulimia maintain a steady weight. Sometimes, these symptoms are accompanied by electrolyte imbalances (fluctuation in the levels of sodium, calcium, or potassium) which mark the body susceptible to a stroke or a heart attack.
3. Binge Eating Disorder
This disorder usually entails consuming vast amounts of food, usually of high-calorie, at one meal. Commonly seen in adolescents, in this dysfunctional eating pattern, the person loses control over eating, but unlike people with Bulimia , they don't indulge in purging behaviors. Therefore, most people diagnosed with Binge-eating disorder are obese and are at high risk of strokes, type 2 diabetes, or heart conditions.
A compulsive condition that induces the person to ingest and crave substances that aren’t considered as food e.g. clay, cloth, dirt, paper, chalk, soap, hair, etc.
Pica is often seen as a secondary symptom in people affected by intellectual or developmental disorders like schizophrenia or Autism.
Patients of Pica are at a higher threat of contracting infections, getting poisoned, having gut infections, or nutritional inadequacies.
5. Rumination Disorder
This disorder has a prominent symptom of throwing up food within 30 minutes of ingesting, rechewing it, and either swallowing it back or spitting it out.
People with Rumination disorder can be as small as 3-12 month-old infants to adults. For infants, the condition heals as the child grows, but adults usually require a psychologist’s aid for restoring well-being. Another trait seen in this condition is the restriction of food, particularly in social settings leading to weight loss and malnutrition.
6. Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)
This type of eating disorder is denoted by severely limiting the food eaten and indulging in ‘selective eating’. They only consume ‘certain’ favorite food items and omit others resulting in nutritional deficiencies.
The calories consumed are insufficient to stimulate adequate growth or maintain essential bodily functions, leading to slowed development. Unlike Anorexia nervosa, here, the person does not have a distorted body image or serious fear of gaining weight.
Purging disorder: People with Purging disorder indulge in vomiting, often through laxatives, diuretics, or extreme exercising to maintain body weight. However, they don't binge.
Night eating syndrome: In this condition, individuals habitually eat enormous food at night, usually after awakening from sleep. They may also suffer from sleep disturbances.
Falling in Love with Food… Again!
Developing eating disorders refashions the dynamics a person shares with food. What may seem as harmless dieting to lose weight can in fact turn out to be the first step in the path to arriving at this disorder.
An interplay of a lot of factors (biological, psychological and social) may be involved in a person fostering a misshaped body image for themselves and eventually leading to a journey of obsessing over weight and developing Eating Disorders.
Taking the help of a therapist, or dietician and following a well-nourished balanced diet, consisting of all kinds of food fosters a healthy and wholesome self. Family and friends can provide support, love, and empathy to the person and help boost their self-esteem.
When we finally learn to accept ourselves the way we are, be a little more kind to ourselves and eat everything that is soul-fulfilling rather than tummy-filling, we become closer to falling in love with ourselves and finding our own happiness.
So let's relish that piece of cake and remember George Bernard Shaw’s words—
There is no sincere love than the love for food!
Written by: Aqsa Merchant (BA Psychology, SY, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda)
Proofread & edited by: Rubal Prajapati (Counseling Psychologist and Ph.D. Scholar at Bharathiar University)