*Trigger Warning: Eating Disorders*
Eating disorders are marked by severe disturbances in an individual’s eating behaviours as well as their thoughts and emotions. Individuals who suffer from eating disorders often have to face the common misconception that their disorder is simply a lifestyle choice that can be treated by “choosing” to eat more or less food.
Although a majority of the visible symptoms surrounding eating disorders are physical, they are serious psychological disorders. Eating disorders have been recognised by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since the 1980s. The behaviours and symptoms resulting from eating disorders can severely impact one’s physical and psychological health.
Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. In addition to their physical symptoms, these disorders also impact one’s mental health and cause low self-esteem, feeling ashamed or guilty, social isolation and mood swings.
Eating disorders have high comorbidity and often occur along with other psychological disorders like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and addiction. Presnell et al. (2009) studied a sample of 500 female adolescents over an 8 year period and found a positive correlation between depressive episodes and bulimic symptoms; as depressive episodes increased, so did future bulimic symptoms, and vice versa.
Treating complex illnesses like eating disorders often requires a combination of a wide range of methods like psychotherapy, medications, nutritional counselling and more. With the appropriate help, individuals are encouraged to return to a healthy weight, restore nutrition levels and treat unhealthy behaviours and thinking patterns.
To create a safe environment for all patients to seek help, we need to break the stereotype that eating disorders only affect adolescent women. It can impact people belonging to all age groups and genders. It is vital to reduce the stigma surrounding eating disorders and raise awareness of their warning symptoms to help patients get the appropriate help they require.