According to the National Eating Disorder Association, up to 70 million people suffer from eating disorders around the world. In fact, more than 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from eating disorders in the United States alone.
While eating disorders are often diagnosed in teenagers and young adults, many people are diagnosed later in life. These disorders can affect people of any age, race, or gender. In fact, eating disorders are increasing in frequency among both men and women of all ages, partially because new types of disorders are being recognized and diagnosed.
The exact cause of eating disorders isn’t known, but there are many factors that may increase the risk of developing one, such as family history, stress, depression, anxiety or other mental health disorders. Dieting – even when it starts as a healthy lifestyle change – is an often overlooked risk factor as well. In fact, NEDA has reported that 35% of all dieters become chronic dieters, and 20-25% of those individuals will develop an eating disorder. For those adopting extreme diets (unbalanced, very low calorie, excessively restrictive, etc.) the risk is even higher.
Eating disorders vary in symptoms, but are expressed through abnormal eating habits that negatively impact one’s health. Eating disorders can be categorized into many types—each with different symptoms and characteristics. These eating disorders include:
- Anorexia Nervosa — Likely the most well-known eating disorder. People with anorexia severely restrict their calories in order to lose weight. Common symptoms include fear of gaining weight, restricted eating habits, and being significantly underweight compared to others in their age and height range.
- Binge Eating Disorder — Binge eating was recognized more recently as an eating disorder. People with binge eating disorder have recurrent episodes of quickly eating large amounts of food, often feeling unable to stop until they are uncomfortably full.
- Bulimia Nervosa — Bulimia is another commonly-known eating disorder that consists of recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by fasting, self-induced vomiting, or the use of laxatives or other medications.
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder — Body dysmorphic disorder is an obsession with a perceived deficit in one’s physical appearance, which others often do not recognize.
- Pica — Pica is another condition that was recognized relatively recently. This disorder includes eating non-food substances that have no nutritional value, such as cotton or chalk.
- Rumination Disorder — Another newly recognized eating disorder, rumination disorder is a condition in which a person regurgitates and re-chews food that he or she has already eaten.
Eating disorders are classified as a type of mental illness, and should be taken very seriously. In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. However, with treatment, those suffering from an eating disorder can go on to live a healthy, happy life. If you or someone you love shows signs of an eating disorder, talk to a doctor right away.
This article first appeared in the February 2019 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.