Starving yourself or bingeing – they’re both eating disorders that can do long-term damage to your health. Here’s what you need to know
EATING disorders are not usually associated with vanity but they have been linked to media stereotypes of “ideal” body types. The stereotypical images of beauty in the media often aren’t realistic and don’t reflect average body size and the variety of body types in real life.
This contributes to unhealthy, warped attitudes and behaviour towards food that can become a serious problem. Anorexia nervosa, for example, has the highest death rate of all mental-health conditions.
Less stigma is associated with the condition as more celebrities are opening up about their challenges.
Actress Gabourey Sidibe wrote in her memoir of her struggle with bulimia as a way to overcome depression.
She said she only ate when she was ready to throw up, which was a distraction from whatever was going on inside her head.
Actress Zoë Kravitz has also spoken about suffering from anorexia and bulimia as a teenager, which she attributed to the celeb lifestyle she grew up in.
She said she found it hard to love herself being surrounded by a lot of beautiful people, including her mom, sitcom star Lisa Bonet, and dad, singer Lenny Kravitz.
But these disorders are not just linked to stardom – anyone can develop them. And the South African Society of Psychiatrists says the causes go beyond food and a distorted sense of body image – the disorder can be a result of long-term unresolved emotional issues.
Each sufferer’s story tends to be different.
Research also indicates that the stereotype of eating disorders only affecting young women no longer holds up. Teenage boys and young men are increasingly at risk, although many do not come forward for treatment.
Let’s take a closer look.
An eating disorder is defined as using food to satisfy emotional needs rather than to satisfy physical hunger. It can develop during any stage of life.
Kathy Henkemans, a registered dietician, says it’s fine to occasionally use food as a reward or to celebrate, but it’s problematic when doing so becomes routine.
“If your first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever you’re stressed, upset, angry, lonely, exhausted or bored, you will get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed,” Henkemans explains.
Dr Diana Monama, a Pretoria-based psychologist, says eating disorders coexist with mental illnesses and psychological issues may lead to eating disorders if not addressed.
“Eating disorders are caused by psychological challenges.
“Issues such as poor self- esteem, dysfunctional family dynamics and the perception of loss of control over one’s life have been known to contribute towards the development of eating disorders,” she says.
TYPES OF EATING DISORDERS
Here are the most common eating disorders:
Binge eating People suffering from this eat in secret and can’t stop until they are uncomfortably full. Rumination disorder Sufferers – usually an infant or young child but also adults – bring back up and re-chew partially digested food that has already been swallowed.
Adults are more likely to spit out regurgitated food and children are more likely to rechew and reswallow it.
Purging disorder People suffering from this control their weight gain by vomiting after eating or using laxatives. Bulimia nervosa is characterised by both bingeing and purging.
Pica Sufferers have the urge to eat non- food substances and crave things such as soil, hai r and even laundry detergent. Anorexia nervosa Sufferers have an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight. They have an abnormally low body weight and constantly monitor their weight and feel overweight, even when they’re underweight.
THE WARNING SIGNS
Eating disorders are sometimes referred to as silent disorders, as sufferers are not always aware of the signs and symptoms. Dr Monama describes poor body image, self-starvation, an obsession with thinness, out-of-control eating and self-induced vomiting as the most common indications that you have an eating disorder. She says you should also look out for the following signs: Withdrawal from friends and family, particularly if they question visible physical changes. Avoidance of meals or situations where food may be present. Preoccupation with weight, body size and shap e or specific aspects of your appearance. Obsessing about kilojoule intake and kilojoules burnt through exercise, even when losing significant amounts of weight. Having no control over your relationship with food.
A lot of women fall prey to societal pressures when it comes to what is seen as the acceptable weight, size and shape and some then starve themselves with the hope of losing weight and fitting the stereotype. Dr Monama urges you to seek professional help if you have issues with your physical appearance which cause you to have an unhealthy relationship with food. “Seek help should you develop low self-esteem due to your weight. “You can also go for psychotherapy ( the treatment of mental disorders by psychological rather than medical means) to deal with the issues,” she advises. Henkemans says it’s possible to overcome bad eating habits no matter how powerless you may feel about your relationship with food and you can do this by being mindful of your lifestyle choices.