Eating Disorder 101

In honor of NEDAwareness Week I’ve decided to do a couple of more informational posts over the next week. I think it is so important for people to have a better understanding of what eating disorders are.

I have found over the course of the last year or so that many people think they know what eating disorders are or what it means to have one. But….most people are actually very ignorant about it, which isn’t their fault! It just isn’t talked about. So here it goes….There are four main EDs: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, other specified feeding or eating disorder.

1)      Anorexia Nervosa:

–          Characteristics include – a low body weight (emaciation), unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight, distorted body image, many see themselves as overweight when, in fact, they are severely underweight

–          Signs include – dramatic weight loss, refusal to eat, denial of hunger, excessive exercise, preoccupation with food, numbers, weight and/or calories, comments about being “fat” regardless of weight loss, excuses around mealtimes, food rituals, social withdrawal, obsessive weighing, use of laxatives, diet pills and/or diuretics

–          2 subtypes –

  • Binge/purge type – repeated binging and purging episodes
  • Restricting type – no binging and purging, strictly restriction

–          Health consequences – abnormal or slow heartbeat, osteoporosis, muscles loss, severe dehydration, which can lead to kidney failure, dry hair and skin, hair loss, fatigue, dizziness and fainting, growth of lanugo (a thin extra layer of hair all over body), loss of period in females

2)      Bulimia Nervosa:

–          Characteristics include – frequent and reoccurring episodes (3 or more times a week) of binging (consuming large amounts of food in a short amount of time) and purging (any behavior used to prevent weight gain; ex. vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, restricting, fasting, excessive exercise), feeling a lack of control during episodes, low self-esteem

–          While those with anorexia are typically underweight, those with bulimia are often at a “healthy, normal” weight

–          Signs include – evidence of binges (empty wrappers and containers, etc), evidence of purging (frequent trips to the bathroom, containers of laxatives and diuretics, etc), social withdrawal, swelling of the cheeks and jaw, calluses on the knuckles, continued exercising despite weather or injury, distorted body image

–          Many people with bulimia recognize their behaviors are dangerous and unhealthy

–          Health consequences – dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, damage to teeth, gums and throat, irregular heartbeats, inflammation of esophagus, loss of period in females

3)      Binge Eating Disorder:

–          Characteristics include – binging without means of compensating or purging, feeling out of control while eating, typically overweight or obese (but not always)

–          Signs include – evidence of binges, intense shame or guilt, social withdrawal and isolation

–          Health consequences – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal problems

4)      Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) (previously called Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified):

–          Any other eating disorder that doesn’t meet the diagnostic criteria for the above 3

–          Examples:

  • Atypical anorexia nervosa – all symptoms of anorexia, but the weight isn’t below normal
  • Bulimia nervosa with less frequent episodes (less than 3 times a week)
  • Binge-Eating disorder with less frequent episodes
  • Purging disorder – purging without binging
  • Night eating syndrome – excessive nighttime eating

–          OSFED is just as serious and severe as the above disorders and can be equally as fatal

–          Can have all of the same health risks as the other disorders

Common effects of all eating disorders are poor body image, low self-esteem and social withdrawal, all of which I mentioned already. Depression, anxiety and other anxiety disorders are also very common co-existing disorders and diseases with eating disorders (all of which I’ll get into another time, too!).

My diagnosis is bulimia. While I never used vomiting as a way of purging, I did use laxatives, diuretics, restriction, fasting and exercise. I was almost always at a healthy weight, so it was hard to tell what was going on. From the outside I appeared really healthy. But my heart hurt, I was always really tired, and I was dehydrated. My heartbeat, at times, was irregular and I was shaky and dizzy. I became very withdrawn from everyone and suffered from depression, anxiety, OCD, self-harm, etc. I had really low self-esteem and horrible body image. A lot of the consequences and effects from my eating disorder I felt. They are all very real and very serious!

I know this isn’t the most exciting post, but I think it’s one of the most important ones I’ll do. If people have the correct information and are aware of the signs, it’s much easier to get help to stop the behaviors early on. And the earlier it’s caught the better chance of reaching a full recovery!

This is the link to the NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) website. It’s where I got most of this information and also has a ton of other useful things!

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