Food plays an important part in our lives, and most of us will spend time thinking about what we eat. Our relationship with food often changes — sometimes we may try to eat more healthily, have cravings, eat too much or lose our appetite. We may find it hard to eat if we’re feeling stressed, or eat comfort food if we feel unhappy. Changing your eating habits every now and again like this is normal, and doesn’t need to worry you.
However, if you aren’t eating a regular balanced diet over a longer period of time, it could become a problem for you. Having an eating disorder can be very hard to cope with. However, it’s important to understand that eating problems aren’t just about food. They can be about issues you’ve been struggling with, feelings which you may be finding hard to express, face or resolve. Focusing on food (Or consuming just enough to survive) can be a way of disguising these problems, even from yourself.
Because eating problems can noticeably affect your body, you may feel that people around you focus mainly on your actions, or on the physical impact they have. But you may feel that your problem is more complicated than the people around you realize. Maybe not so common here in Nigeria, but eating disorders nonetheless abound and sometimes, the people with these disorders do not fit totally into one particular description. Causes? There is no single known cause; but factors like difficult life experiences, family issues, personality traits, physical and mental health problems, social pressure, can be said to be seen as risk factors for developing an eating disorder.
There are two very important types of eating disorder of importance in our population and they include; Anorexia Nervosa, and Bulimia Nervosa.
It is highly unfortunate that in the western world, the thinner you are the more attractive you are perceived and this is being adopted today on our side of the world (when we know for sure that the curvy woman is more attractive).
Anorexia Nervosa is the most fatal of mental illnesses. It is an eating disorder characterized by an extreme and debilitating fear of gaining weight, a fear not alleviated as weight is lost. It may include dramatic weight loss to the extent of starvation. The issue of control is important, with individuals denying themselves food and not “giving in”.
Anorexia means you don’t allow yourself to eat enough food to get the energy and nutrition you need to stay physically healthy. Sometimes people assume that anorexia is about slimming and dieting, but it is often connected to very low self-esteem, negative self-image and feelings of intense distress. The sufferer has a phobia for fat (usually seen in women so for the purpose of this discussion, I will be using she) — and ties her self-worth to how thin she is. For her, less is more. So, in order to achieve this, she is over-exercising, starving herself, using laxatives, appetite suppressants, and diuretics; all in a bid to reduce whatever weight she has and even with this, she might still consider herself as fat even when reduced to a skeleton covered with skin. Sometimes, such a person may binge eat after “giving in” to hunger immediately after which she feels remorseful and induces vomiting and may go as far as punishing herself.
How you might feel:
- like you can’t think about anything other than food
- like you want to disappear
- like you have to be perfect
- lonely, especially if no one knows about your eating problems
- like eating is the same as losing control
- like you are hiding things from your family and friends
- like you are fat and your weight loss isn’t enough, even if other people think you are underweight
- frightened of putting on weight
- angry if someone challenges you
- tired and disinterested in things
- depressed or suicidal
- a high or sense of achievement from denying yourself food or over-exercising.
What you might do:
- reduce your food intake or stop eating altogether
- count calories obsessively
- hide food or secretly throw it away
- avoid foods that you feel are dangerous, like food with high amounts of calories or fat
- use drugs that reduce your appetite or speed up your digestion
- be obsessed with losing weight
- make yourself sick or use laxatives
- exercise compulsively
- wear baggy clothes to cover up weight loss and keep warm
- compete to eat less than other people
- make rules about food, like listing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods or only eating things that are a certain color.
What might happen to your body:
- weighing much less than you should (at least 15% below a healthy weight for your age and height)
- being physically underdeveloped (this can happen if your problem starts before puberty)
- feeling weak and moving slowly
- feeling very cold
- you may find it very hard to concentrate
- hair thinning or falling out
- fine, fuzzy hair on your arms and face (this is called ‘lanugo’)
- losing interest in sex, or not being able to have — or enjoy — sex
- you could have bone density problems like osteoporosis, making your bones fragile
- if you are a woman, your periods might become irregular or stop altogether.
It is hardly possible for someone that is anorexic not to have other medical problems that are either existing with or are the predisposing factors to the anorexia and some of them include: depression, anxiety, OCD, anxious-avoidant- dependent personality, etc.
Treatment requires restoring nutritional balance and trying to correct the distorted image the person has about herself through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Family support should not be overlooked in such cases too. Not everyone recovers completely from Anorexia as only about 46% recover; 36% simply just improve; about 20% develop a chronic eating disorder and 5% die.
So it is important to love yourself the way you are. Everyone has insecurities they are dealing with, even the Victoria Secret models; but self-harm has never really helped anyone.
Bulimia is one of the most common eating problems. If you experience bulimia, you may find that you eat large amounts of food all in one go, often because you are feeling upset or worried. This is called binging. You may then feel guilty or ashamed after bingeing, and want to get rid of the food you have eaten. This is called purging.
In order for a diagnosis of bulimia to be given an individual needs to have had recurrent episodes (at least twice a week for three months) of bingeing and compensating mechanisms. The onset of bulimia tends to be late adolescence to early adulthood.
Guess what? For every 9 women, there is one man.
How you might feel:
- ashamed and guilty
- that you hate your body, or that you are fat
- scared of being found out by family and friends
- depressed or anxious
- lonely, especially if no one else knows about your eating problems
- very low and upset
- like your mood changes quickly or suddenly
- like you’re stuck in a cycle of feeling out of control and trying to get control back
- Numb, or like feelings are blocked out by bingeing or purging.
What you might do:
- eat lots of food in one go (binge)
- try to get rid of food you’ve eaten by making yourself sick, or using laxatives (purge)
- starve yourself in between binges
- eat in secret
- crave certain types of food
- eat foods you think are bad for you when you binge
- exercise lots to try to make up for bingeing.
What might happen to your body:
- staying roughly the same weight, or going from being overweight to underweight quite often
- being dehydrated, which can cause bad skin
- if you are a woman, your periods might become irregular or stop altogether
- if you make yourself sick, your stomach acid can harm your teeth and you can get a sore throat
- if you use laxatives, you could develop irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stretched colon, constipation and heart disease.
Because your weight will usually stay roughly the same, people are less likely to notice the illness or offer help without you asking. This can make it harder to get support even when you feel ready to try to get better.
Treatment is related to severity. In mild cases, use of self-help books and counselling could be of help. More severe cases would require more though. Anyway, we do not think it is fashionable to harm one’s body with these habits and so, if you have a problem, please let someone know. Do not let peer pressure or some unrealistic modeling agency make you lose your self esteem. There are more rewarding ways to look and feel amazing.
These are the most common eating disorders; for more, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, We are here to help you understand more.