Food is our friend, no doubt about it.
We need it for sustenance and to be able to live our best life, but very often this relationship gets complicated, and food ceases to be a friend.
You either get too dependent on it (eat too much) or begin considering it as your enemy (so starve), in fact many often yo-yo between the two ends.
Abnormal or disturbed eating habits can be of several types —anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, obsession with fads, Orthorexia Nervosa or a mix of these.
These disorders don’t affect just teenagers (as is widely thought) but can and do afflict middle-aged and older adults too, and are rampant.
When I started practice more than two decades ago, these cases were few and far between, today they are almost a full blown epidemic.
Let me just say that most people I meet today are grappling with some messed up, unhealthy form of food obsession or neurosis.
And in the past few years, the numbers have increased multiple times. Let’s talk about them one by one.
This is the most common.
Here one gets caught in a cycle of self-starvation. Usually, it starts as a simple intention of scoring a slimmer body often fueled by crazy media and society induced definitions of what is beautiful, but it soon moves on to become an obsession to pursue the impossible and people with this disorder continue to think they’re fat even when they are bone-thin.
Bulimia is characterized by binge eating episodes followed by self-induced vomiting or purging through excessive exercise, or use of laxatives or diuretics.
Here, there is a clear lack of control over eating and the amount of food that is ingested at one time is much more than what a normal individual would eat in a similar time period under similar circumstances.
Then typically the person feels extremely ashamed of these actions, or tries to purge out the food.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
People with BED frequently consume unusually large amounts of food and feel like they cannot stop eating.
This disorder often gets relegated to the sidelines as it is considered less damaging than other eating disorders. That’s not true as BED hurts more than just your weight.
You gain excess weight of course, which is bad for your self-esteem but the danger does not end there, as there are multiple other problems associated with it.
Diabetes, depression, anxiety and mood disorders, high BP and cholesterol are common in those with BED, so do not take it lightly.
The Fads Wagon
Fad diets today is unfortunately one of the most googled words. But fad diets do not and cannot work for the simple reason that all of them restrict certain food groups and deliver weight loss (seemingly) by depriving the body of adequate calories and nutrition for a short period of time.
This is a modern-day food disorder that leads to massive health loss.
So, avoid any diet that promises quick, dramatic or miraculous weight loss as in this case weight lost will come back just as fast, maybe faster.
The price of a ‘quick fix’ is often very steep.
This is a term used for an unhealthy and obsessive addiction to health food. People with the disorder forego all other foods that do not meet their strict standards completely.
An orthorexic lets healthy food (or what he/she perceives as healthy) rule all his life decisions, and interfere with his quality of life, and ability to function.
They also tend to be intolerant of other people’s choices about foods, and spend unnatural amount of time (often up to 3-4 hours a day) reading up about what is healthy and good for their body.
What Could Lead to Disorders?
Low self-esteem and a sense of worthlessness is often a cause. It’s the sense of triumph over the body that seems to be tempting more and more people to take their desire to be slim one step too far.
Peer pressure, loneliness, and desire to fit in with the peers is often a trigger.
False reinforcements by the media on ‘ideal’ body images and the general high premium our society places on physical perfection can be a trigger too.
Sometimes childhood traumas could also lead to them, and very often those who have anxiety disorders or are obsessional are at a greater risk for developing eating disorders.
Don't Take Them Lightly
It is important to catch them in time and treat it right as otherwise the damage can be quite extensive.
Physical, emotional complications, nutritional deficiencies, weak bones, gastrointestinal problems, severe thinning of hair and skin, psychosomatic and stress related disorders, depression, drug abuse, self-harming behaviors, and relationship problems can develop with time.
Tackle Them Right
If you suspect that you might be suffering from an eating disorder, the sooner it is identified, the sooner it will be treated.
The key to recovery is professional help (psychologist, doctor, nutritionist, or any other health professional who can help) as they can help break the cycle, correct nutritional imbalances and their effect on your health and help you develop a more accurate view of the self, so that recovery sticks.
A therapist can help deal with the emotional components of eating disorders, such as poor self-esteem or a need to feel in control. A nutritionist to clearly understand right information about food, and figure out if they suffer from any nutritional deficiencies.
Treatment often involves cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of psychotherapy aiming at behavior modification.
(Kavita Devgan is a nutritionist, weight management consultant, and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of The Don't Diet Plan: A no-nonsense guide to weight loss, Fix it with Food, Ultimate Grandmother Hacks, and Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People.)