Disordered eating is a term used to describe a variety of eating patterns that are harmful to an individual’s physical or mental health. These patterns can manifest in many ways and go unrecognized for a long time. In this blog post, we will discuss disordered eating in detail and provide information on how to get help if you or someone you know is struggling with it.
What Is Disordered Eating?
Disordered eating is characterized by an unhealthy relationship with food. This can manifest in a number of ways, including but not limited to the following:
- Binge eating: this is when a person eats an excessive amount of food in a short period of time, often to the point of feeling uncomfortably full. This is often followed by feelings of shame or guilt.
- Restricting: this is when a person severely limits their food intake, often to the point of malnutrition. This is done for various reasons, including weight loss or the belief that one will be “healthier” if one eats less.
- Purging: this is when a person tries to rid their body of food after eating, often through vomiting, excessive exercise, or the use of laxatives.
- Using diet pills or supplements to excess: this is when a person becomes reliant on these substances in order to lose weight or control their eating.
- Fixating on calories and fat content and obsessively tracking food intake: this is when a person becomes overly concerned with the amount of food they’re eating and the nutritional value of that food.
There are many other types of disordered eating, and an individual will often exhibit a combination of these behaviors. It is important to remember that disordered eating is not diagnosable but rather a term used to describe unhealthy eating patterns.
Eating disorders are often a coping mechanism for underlying issues such as anxiety, depression, or trauma. It can also be a way of numbing emotions or dealing with difficult life circumstances. For many people, disordered eating starts as an innocent attempt to lose weight or eat healthier but quickly spirals into something much more dangerous.
The Reasoning Behind Disordered Eating
There are many different reasons why someone might develop disordered eating. For some, it may be a way to cope with a challenging life event or trauma. Others may turn to disordered eating as a way to control their weight or body image. And still others may have a genetic predisposition to disordered eating or may develop it due to cultural pressure to be thin.
Most people that struggle with eating disorders want something that they can control because they feel like they have lost control in other areas of their life.
What Happens in the Brain with an Eating Disorder?
A number of different chemicals and hormones are involved in disordered eating. For example, the hormone ghrelin triggers hunger signals in the brain. People with disordered eating often have abnormally high ghrelin levels, which can lead to binge eating.
Another hormone, leptin, is responsible for telling the brain when we are full. People with eating disorders often have abnormally low levels of leptin, which can lead to excessive food intake.
A number of neurotransmitters (these are special chemicals in the brain that help send messages from one neuron to another) are also involved in disordered eating. For example, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and feelings of happiness. People with disordered eating often have abnormally low levels of serotonin, which can lead to depression and anxiety.
Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that plays a role in disordered eating. It is responsible for the pleasure and reward signals in the brain. People with eating disorders often have abnormally high levels of dopamine, which can lead to addiction-like behaviors around food.
The Main Types of Disordered Eating
There are four main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and disordered eating not otherwise specified (EDNOS).
Anorexia nervosa is characterized by restrictive food intake, excessive weight loss, and an intense fear of gaining weight. People with anorexia nervosa often have a distorted body image and see themselves as overweight even when they are not.
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating followed by purging behaviors such as vomiting or using laxatives. People with bulimia nervosa often feel out of control around food and are ashamed of their eating habits.
Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by feelings of shame, guilt, and disgust. People with binge eating disorder often feel like they cannot control their eating habits and may be overweight or obese as a result.
EDNOS is characterized by disordered eating behaviors that do not meet the criteria for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder. This can include restrictive food intake, binge eating, purging behaviors, and excessive exercise. People with EDNOS often feel like they are not in control of their eating habits and may be overweight or obese as a result.
Signs and Symptoms of Disordered Eating
Signs of disordered eating include, but aren’t limited to:
- Preoccupation with food, weight, and body image
- Restrictive eating behaviors such as cutting out whole food groups or severely limiting calories
- Binge eating behaviors such as consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time or feeling out of control around food
- Purging behaviors such as vomiting, using laxatives, or excessively exercising
- Extreme concern with body weight and shape
- Distorted body image
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Feeling unworthy or undeserving of good things in life
- Feelings of shame, guilt, and disgust around eating
- Isolation from friends and family
- Difficulty concentrating or thinking about anything other than food, weight, and body image
- Extreme mood swings
- Constant hunger or feeling full all the time
- Changes in sleep patterns
Take time to examine and ask yourself if you display any of these symptoms if you think you may struggle with disordered eating.
The Dangers of Disordered Eating
Disordered eating can lead to a number of serious health complications, such as:
- Electrolyte imbalances: this means that there is an imbalance of minerals in the body that can lead to heart arrhythmias, kidney problems, and seizures.
- Kidney damage: this can be caused by dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
- Liver damage: this can be caused by purging behaviors such as vomiting and using laxatives.
- Heart damage: this can be caused by electrolyte imbalances and eating disorders that cause rapid weight loss.
- Gastrointestinal problems: this can be caused by purging behaviors such as vomiting and using laxatives.
- Depression: this can be caused by the isolation that disordered eating often leads to.
- Anxiety: this can be caused by preoccupation with food, weight, and body image.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): this can be caused by the preoccupation with food, weight, and body image.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): this can be caused by the trauma of disordered eating.
- Substance abuse: this can be caused by the isolation that disordered eating often leads to.
If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating, getting help as soon as possible is crucial. Disordered eating is a serious mental illness that can have dangerous consequences if left untreated.
There are a number of treatment options available for disordered eating. Treatment often includes a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and nutritional counseling.
If you are struggling with disordered eating, Makin Wellness can help. We offer various services, such as psychotherapy, medication management, and nutritional counseling. We also provide a number of resources, such as educational materials and videos.
Contact us today or visit our website to learn more about how we can help you!