In honor of National Eating Disorder Week that was from Feb. 26-March 4, this article will discuss eating disorders at large.
Eating disorders are far more common than people realize. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, national surveys estimate 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. However, that is just based on official diagnoses, and most people do not actually get their eating disorders officially diagnosed.
First, there are the common types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and the most recent termed eating disorder, orthorexia. Anorexia nervosa typically involves chronic restriction of calories. Anorexia nervosa may come with fear of weight gain, strict eating rules, body dysmorphia and other compulsive behaviors. Binge eating followed by purging also may occur.
Bulimia nervosa is typically characterized by similar fears and restrictions of anorexia, but is differentiated by a lack of control that leads to bingeing and purging. Purging may be done by vomiting, over-exercising or with the use of laxatives. Binge eating disorder is characterized by eating large amounts of food in a short amount of time, without feelings of control. Typically, the food is consumed without the person taking hunger or fullness into account and without purging. Often, bingeing is used to numb unwanted emotions and results in guilt from the binge.
Orthorexia is an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy or “clean.” Orthorexia will often come with strict eating rules and fears of eating food that makes one feel unclean or unhealthy. No one knows exactly what causes eating disorders. Research has begun to suggest a combination of biological, psychological and sociocultural factors culminate in an eating disorder. Once the disorder has embedded itself, it usually overtakes someone’s life, causing them to think about their diet/food constantly while their worth is determined by what they weigh and their relationship with food. Typically, someone with an eating disorder will have a family history or personal history of drug/alcohol abuse, OCD, anxiety, depression or family members with eating disorders. Eating disorders usually require professional help and support to recover from.
Eating disorders can show up in many ways. These signs include amenorrhea that restores once normal weight restores, guilt/shame around eating, frequently weighing oneself and manipulating diet related to weight, sneaking food, the need to compensate for consumed food and/or obsessively counting calories. It is important to realize any person of any size, gender, race, background can be struggling with an eating disorder.
So what does a dietitian do? A dietitian’s role in the treatment of eating disorders is to assist clients in making a meal plan that allows them to take control over the eating disorder and build a healthy relationship with food. Meal plans are individualized to the client’s dietary needs and eating disorder history. The dietitian works to help the client understand where they are and how they got to where they are now so that food relationships can began to be changed. As a local dietitian who works with eating disorders, I believe that is important to provide nutrition treatment for those with eating disorder as a team approach, alongside psychological treatment. Research has proven that treating eating disorder’s is most successful when a team approach is used. I value the combination of utilizing psychological interventions to help the client work through the initial root cause and mindset around the eating disorder while utilizing a dietitian to help nourish the client and (re)build healthy eating habits and healthy food relationships. Someone with an eating disorder should never be treated by a single provider alone, but rather with a team.
The bottom line is people do not choose to have eating disorders; they are actual biologically influenced illnesses. Full recovery from an eating disorder is 100 percent possible. Treatment and support is necessary to end an eating disorder. Reach out to your local therapist/ eating disorder dietitian if you’re tired of food controlling your life.
Tiffany Carsten (Hawkins) R.D., L.D. is a registered dietitian specializing in the treatment of eating disorders and general healthful eating of the Central Missouri region.