The compass of most people regarding psychological illnesses stops flickering beyond depression or anxiety. There are a ton of mental illnesses and disorders, and we will be discussing a type of disorder which has grown vastly in recent times – Eating disorders.
Eating disorders are severe psychological illnesses with devastating consequences. The general populace believes that eating disorders are for skinny adolescent girls who want to stay skinny to look like fashion models. But, there is a lot more to the story. Eating disorders do not discriminate based on age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity or socioeconomic group.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association DSM-V lists many forms of eating disorders and anorexia nervosa, among others, has what is estimated to be the highest mortality rate of any psychological disorder. Anorexia nervosa (AN) is the persistent restriction of energy intake, intense fear of gaining weight and disturbance in self-perceived weight or shape. The core psychological feature of anorexia is the extreme overvaluation of shape and weight.
Purging behaviour involves self-induced vomiting, or deliberately misusing laxatives, diuretics or enemas to compensate for eating food. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, over half of the teenage girls and nearly a third of adolescent boys have used troubling weight control measures like fasting, smoking, vomiting or taking laxatives. Let’s get this straight; we are not talking about fat diets or lifestyle choices spurred by vanity! In fact, there is no choice. The sufferers seek numbness to ignore these thoughts and somehow work through them.
Anorexia can mainly be attributed to the societal thinking of thin as pretty, which influences young minds to take drastic measures to be thin, in order to be considered attractive by the societal standards. In many people, anorexia develops due to anxiety when they see themselves losing control over their lives. So, the things they believe they can control are their eating habits and looks. Whenever they skip a meal or over-exercise they feel in control and more congruent with the idealised looks. The effects? Eating disorders are still very misunderstood, and their severity goes unrealised.
The effects of anorexia aren’t just limited to severe weight loss. It includes the following psychological and physiological consequences:
- Loss or disturbance of menstruation in girls.
- Fainting or dizziness
- Feeling cold most of the time, even in warm weather.
- Facial changes (e.g. looking pale, sunken eyes).
- Increased sensitivity to comments relating to food, weight, body shape, exercise
- Low self-esteem and perfectionism
- Intense fear of gaining weight and extreme body image dissatisfaction.
- Reduced capacity for thinking and increased difficulty concentrating
- Self-harm, substance abuse or suicide attempts.
The most successful treatment for eating disorders is talking to a specialist who can help with your emotional needs and can help you take control of your eating. ‘Talking treatments’ such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are generally considered to be the most effective. In order to produce effective early intervention and prevention strategies, eating disorders s need to be better understood by both health professionals and society as a whole. They need to be recognised as disorders of the mind! We need to break down the stigma surrounding mental illnesses because they stop the sufferers from acknowledging their condition as they fear being judged or hated.