The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has identified and recognized three conditions with distinctive, predictable behaviours as chronic and definable eating disorders; anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating. The CMHA goes on to advise that eating disorders can be difficult to detect and are not about food. More often than not, eating disorders are characterized by a compulsive and persistent dependence on a behaviour where food plays a central role and is triggered by events or conditions that have, or have had, a destabilizing effect on a person’s life. Eating disorders elevate a person’s weight to the prime focus in their life. They become obsessed with, and the resident expert on, grams of fat, calories, and exercise. This precarious distraction offers them a coping mechanism for dealing with deeper problems or painful situations in their life. Currently, the possibility of biochemical or biological causes is being studied. Whatever the reason, there is no one single cause, but with hard work, support, education, and determination, eating disorders can be reversed generally through the use of multi-disciplinary approaches. In this article we’ll explore the warning signs of an eating disorder, how to approach and speak with someone who may be struggling with it, where and how to reach out to get help and what this help might look like. At the end of the article, we’ll make sure you have plenty of resources at your fingertips but the best place to start is always with your primary family health care provider.
CMHA’s website advises that, “…at any given time, 70% of women and 35% of men are dieting” and that a 2002 Statistics Canada Survey reported that 1.5% of Canadian women aged 15-24 had an eating disorder. It is suggested that the prevalence of anorexia and bulimia appears to increase during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood.
Eating disorders are a way of coping with deeper problems that a person finds too painful or difficult to deal with directly. They are complex conditions that signal difficulties with identity, self-concept and self-esteem. Eating disorders are cross cultural, racial and socio-economic boundaries and affect men and women.
Eating disorders can be difficult to detect. Gaining an understanding of these conditions is the first step in the journey to wellness.
Anorexia nervosa is characterized by severe weight loss due to extreme food reduction.
Some symptoms include:
- Refusal to keep body weight at or above the normal weight for one’s body type.
- Dieting to extremes, usually coupled with excessive exercise.
- Feeling overweight despite dramatic weight loss.
- Extreme preoccupation with body weight and shape.
Bulimia results in frequent fluctuations in weight due to periods of uncontrollable binge eating, followed by purging (vomiting) and also includes a preoccupation with body image.
Some symptoms include:
- Repeated episodes of binging and purging, usually by self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives, diet pills and/or diuretics – both methods are harmful.
- Eating beyond the point of fullness.
Binge-eating Disorder (Compulsive Eating)
This disorder is often triggered by chronic dieting and involves periods of overeating, often in secret, and often carried out as a means of deriving comfort.
Some symptoms include:
- Periods of uncontrolled, impulsive or continuous eating.
- Sporadic fasts or repetitive diets.
Some warning signs for these three disorders include:
- Low self-esteem.
- Social withdrawal.
- Claims of feeling fat when weight is normal or low.
- Preoccupation with food, weight, counting calories and with what people think.
- Denial that there is a problem.
- Wanting to be perfect.
- Intolerance of others.
- Inability to concentrate.
Treatment for Eating Disorders
The sooner someone seeks help, the sooner they will benefit from treatment. However, people with an eating disorder usually work very hard to keep it secret and find it very difficult to acknowledge that they have a problem. Treatment involves a thorough medical assessment and a multi-disciplinary approach including nutritional guidance, support, medical follow-up and individual/group/family therapy conducted by professionals in this field.
What To Do
If you think you might have an eating disorder, first learn all you can about them and then contact your family health care provider for help. Many people have eating disorders and help and support is available for you.
If you think you know someone with an eating disorder, express your concerns calmly and in a caring manner. Encourage them to seek help and try not to lay blame or discuss feelings. Be supportive and offer to go with them to talk with a professional about the situation.
For further information about eating disorders, contact a community organization like the Canadian Mental Health Association to find out about support and resources in your community. Visit the website at www.cmha.ca. In addition, the National Eating Disorder Information Centre keeps a national listing of treatment services and resources online at www.nedic.ca..
Many thanks to the Canadian Mental Health Association for this information.
Canadian Mental Health Association
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner, registered with Natural Health Practitioners Canada, who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 10 years experience in her area of expertise, naturopathic medicine, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch ® Practitioner and Reflexologist.
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