In today’s social media ridden culture, now more than ever we are being bombarded with images of what society considers the “perfect” body. Society has a definition of “pretty” and “attractive” and it has caused eating disorders to be on the rise, particularly amongst children and teens.
However, what most people fail to realize is that eating disorders stem not just from unhappiness with appearance. Usually, restriction begins when a person feels out of control. Eating is one of the easiest behaviors to control, which is why I have seen a lot of patients, particularly teens, who struggle with eating disorders and already have pre-existing conditions such as OCD, Anxiety with school, mood disorders, or even unhealthy relationships at home. Typically, when kids feel out of control with their own lives, even with their health, eating disorders can emerge to gain that feeling of control.
So, no, it is not always about the scale. If a family member struggles with another addiction or addictive behaviors, eating disorders tend to occur. Some say that even say that eating disorders are the hardest addiction to break, for we always need to eat.
The two most common forms of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is defined by a number of different signs. Someone would be considered to have anorexia nervosa if they are at least 15% below their ideal body weight, if they have an intense fear of being fat even if they are underweight, having a distorted image of their body and denial of their underweight status.
Anorexia is most prevalent among teenage girls, but absolutely can occur among groups of all ages and genders. Long term health effects of anorexia involve most of the organ systems, due to the process of starvation’s toll on the body. It can also cause bone loss, decreased kidney function and even changes in brain function.
Bulimia nervosa has a different subset of signs. To be diagnosed with bulimia, the person would have to be binge eating large amounts of food in a short amount of time, feel a lack of control when eating, purge the excess food by making themselves vomit, using laxatives, using diuretics or exercising for an excessive period of time.
A person with bulimia most likely has a self image that is based upon their weight status and not upon their personality or other qualities. Bulimia is most common among college aged women, but again can occur within any age group or gender. Long term health effects of bulimia include vitamin and mineral deficiencies, wearing down of tooth enamel, and long lasting problems with digestion and the heart.
If you do not fit into these two categories, but feel you have an unhealthy relationship with food, there are other subsets on what would classify as an eating disorder. We would refer to these as EDNOS, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. I have come across patients to exhibit a combination of the different types of eating disorders.
Another eating disorder that has been on the rise, orthorexia. This involves an unhealthy obsession with “whole foods”, and refusal to eat anything but that. Reliance will start to stem on supplementation. It can also involve combinations of excessive exercise as purging. One can even start to develop punishments by withholding food, additional exercise, etc.
If you are worried about someone that you care about having developed an eating disorder, there are many symptoms that you can look out for. Some warning signs include, eating small portions, an intense fear of becoming fat, excessive exercise lasting over an hour, hoarding or hiding food, disappearing after meals, social withdrawal, depression, irritability, hiding weight loss under bulky clothing, and menstrual irregularities or missing periods all together.
If your child or someone close to you is exhibiting these symptoms it is important to take them to see a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (ME), who can help them work through their disorder, normalize a person’s relationship with food and help to put them on path to a healthier life.
Don’t wait until the addiction is full blown, at the first signs of restrictive or unhealthy behavior, contact the professionals!
Michele Wroblewski, RDN
Natalie Meltzer, Student
Caruso Physical Therapy and Nutrition, LLC
1278 Yardville Allentown Rd. Suite 3
Allentown, NJ 08501
Boyse, Kyla. “University of Michigan Health System.” Your Child: University of Michigan Health System, www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/eatdisteen.htm.
Wolfram, Taylor. “Understanding Eating Disorders.” Eat Right. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics., 10 Oct. 2017, www.eatright.org/health/diseases-and-conditions/eating-disorders/understanding-eating-disorders.