Eating Disorders: When Food Becomes the Enemy

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I am so excited for today’s post! It has been written by Jennifer G., a fairly new blogger at Overeater Mommy. After more than two decades of struggling with depression and her weight, she was recently diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder, as she will explain below. Now, as a stay at home mom of two boys, she blogs about her journey in fighting back.

I have binge eating disorder and wasn’t diagnosed until a few years ago. Looking back, I now realize that it all started in childhood for me. I didn’t know what it was back then, I just knew that eating made me feel happy and it made me feel better when I was unhappy. I later developed other symptoms as the disease progressed.

I deal with my eating disorder every moment of every day, but I’m stronger now because I have the help and support I need to live my life, despite my diagnosis.

Let’s take a closer look at what happens when food becomes the enemy.

Mental Health and Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is a mental illness and if left untreated, can be fatal. Oftentimes, eating disorders occur along with other mental health disorders, most often major depressive disorder, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

“Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Besides medical complications from binge eating, purging, starvation, and over-exercise, suicide is also common among individuals with eating disorders” ~National Eating Disorders Association

Myth vs. Fact

Myth: Eating disorders only affect females and models.

Fact: 1 in 3 people affected by eating disorders are male. (The number of men affected by eating disorders may actually be higher because their symptoms go under-reported due to the stigma that eating disorders affect only females.)

Myth: An eating disorder is a choice.

Fact: An eating disorder is not a choice any more than choosing to get cancer or heart disease. It is a mental illness which can be treated. Recovery is possible.

Myth: You can tell someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them.

Fact: Those affected by eating disorders are all shapes and sizes. Someone with anorexia can be overweight, while someone with binge eating disorder can be underweight.

Myth: Anorexia is the only fatal eating disorder.

Fact: All eating disorders can prove fatal if left untreated.

Normal/Non-disordered Eating

What exactly is considered “normal” eating?

Normal eating is:

  • Eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’ve had enough, not because you think you shouldn’t eat more (restricting your diet)
  • Eating (usually) 3 meals a day
  • Eating a variety of foods
  • Sometimes eating because you’re happy, sad, bored, or because it tastes good, but also knowing when to stop
  • Occasionally eating too much

Disordered Eating

Disordered eating is not the same as an eating disorder. Disordered eating is the unhealthy behaviors that can turn into an eating disorder, such as:

  • Fasting/skipping meals
  • Restrictive eating
  • Not eating a certain kind of food, like carbs or fatty foods
  • Compulsive eating/binge eating
  • Vomiting or laxative use after eating
  • Taking diet pills
  • Fixating on body image
  • Lowered ability to deal with stressful conditions
  • Increased suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Dieting is the most common form of disordered eating.

Eating Disorders

According to the American Psychiatric Association:

“Eating disorders are illnesses in which the people experience severe disturbances in their eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions.” 

The most well-known eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, but did you know that binge eating disorder is the most common?

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) all of the following are categorized as eating disorders:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge eating disorder
  • Other specified feeding or eating disorder
  • Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder
  • Pica
  • Rumination disorder
  • Unspecified feeding or eating disorder

I’ll go into more detail on the more well-known eating disorders, but also touch on the others as well.

Disclaimer: The following includes just a few of the warning signs for each individual eating disorder and are not all-inclusive. If you have concerns about yourself or a loved one, please talk to a healthcare professional. I am not a mental health expert.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is defined as:

“An eating disorder characterized by weight loss (or lack of appropriate weight gain in growing children); difficulties maintaining an appropriate body weight for height, age, and stature; and, in many individuals, distorted body image.”

Anorexia usually starts around adolescence, but an increasing number of cases are showing up in children and older adults.

People with anorexia aren’t necessarily super skinny. There are people with all different body types that have anorexia, including those that are obese.

Just a few of the behavioral warning signs and symptoms of anorexia include:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Denial of hunger
  • Cooking for others and not eating
  • Making excuses to avoid meals/eating
  • Having an extremely rigid, excessive exercise routine
  • Obsessing about weight, dieting, and calorie/fat intake

A few of the physical warning signs and symptoms include:

  • Constipation and stomach cramps
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Usually cold
  • Dry skin and nails
  • Dry and thinning hair
  • Dental issues like cavities, teeth sensitivity, and enamel erosion

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is:

“…a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.” ~NEDA

Compensatory behaviors include:

  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Exercising excessively
  • Overuse of laxatives, diuretics, and/or other medications
  • Fasting

Just a few of the behavioral warning signs and symptoms of bulimia include:

  • Obvious signs of purging after a meal or binge, such as smelling of vomit and/or wrappers from laxatives or diuretics
  • Often leaves after meals, usually to go to the bathroom
  • Anxious about eating with others
  • Drinks extreme amounts of water or zero-calorie drinks
  • Hoards or steals food

A few of the physical warning signs and symptoms include:

  • Dizziness and/or fainting
  • Dry hair, nails, and skin
  • Usually normal weight, sometimes overweight
  • Appears bloated (from retaining fluids)
  • Swollen cheeks and/or jaw
  • Calluses on fingers or hands from making themselves vomit
  • Stained/discolored teeth
  • Oftentimes cold

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) is defined by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) as:

 “Recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating.”

Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States and was only recently (in 2013) acknowledged as an eating disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Handbook (DSM).

Before 2013, BED was classified as a subtype in the category “other specified feeding or eating disorders”.

According to the NEDA website:

  • As of 2007, BED was more than 3 times more common than anorexia and bulimia combined.
  • BED is more common than schizophrenia, HIV, and breast cancer.

Surprised?

Just a few of the behavioral warning signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • Discomfort eating in front of others
  • Food hoarding or stealing
  • Often dieting
  • Feeling out of control when eating certain foods
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Obvious binge evidence (large amounts of food disappearance, wrappers, etc.)
  • Wanting to eat alone due to the embarrassment of the amount of and/or quality of food eaten

A few of the physical warning signs and symptoms include:

  • Weight changes
  • Stomach issues like constipation and reflux
  • Trouble concentrating

Other specified feeding or eating disorder

This category includes eating disorders that meet some but not all the criteria for an eating disorder diagnosis.

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder

This eating disorder is when someone doesn’t meet their specific nutrition and energy needs.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Significant weight loss
  • Growth rate not being met (in children)
  • Reliance on nutritional supplements
  • Nutritional deficiency

Pica

Pica means eating things that aren’t food and don’t contain any nutritional value for at least a month, such as dirt or hair.

Rumination disorder

Rumination disorder is:

“The regular regurgitation of food that occurs for at least one month. Regurgitated food may be re-chewed, re-swallowed, or spit out. Typically, when someone regurgitates their food, they do not appear to be making an effort, nor do they appear to be stressed, upset, or disgusted.” ~NEDA

Unspecified feeding or eating disorder

This category includes symptoms that don’t quite meet the strict qualifications of the previous eating disorders but cause excessive stress to the individual and interferes with day-to-day life.

Orthorexia

Although not technically considered an eating disorder (there are no formal criteria for a diagnosis), I did want to mention orthorexia.

Orthorexia is an obsession with clean eating or nutrition.

Yes, that’s usually considered a good thing, but in this case, it goes to the extreme and affects a person’s wellbeing.

Studies have shown that many people with orthorexia also have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

A few warning signs and symptoms of orthorexia are:

  • Eating only from certain healthy or “clean” food groups
  • Cutting out more and more food categories like fats, sugar, carbs, etc.
  • Spending hours planning what to eat
  • Extreme concern and obsession with checking nutrition and ingredients of food
  • High stress when healthy or “clean” foods aren’t available

Eating Disorders in Men

Men are less likely to admit they need help because of the stigma that only women get eating disorders.

About 40% of those with binge eating disorder are male.

Because men don’t seek treatment as often as women for eating disorder symptoms, there is a higher rate of death. Treatment early on is critical and nothing to put off.

Final Thoughts

I hope with the information in this post, you have a clearer picture of how serious eating disorders are and what they entail. They are not a choice and should be taken extremely seriously.

Although eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, recovery is possible. I’m not going to say it’s easy (obviously), but with the right support system and tools in place, you can overcome your eating disorder and live a healthy, peaceful life.

I don’t know about you all, but this was eye opening to me. If you are interested in knowing more about the connection between eating disorders and mental health, or about the writer of this post, check out Jennifer’s blog and be sure to follow her on Pinterest and Twitter as well. And like always, consider sharing this post to help others!

Eating disorders and mental health go hand in hand. Read one sufferer's story here.

2 comments

  1. Nyxie

    You did an excellent job of talking about eating disorders here. So many people just think of anorexia and bulimia, forgetting the other eating disorders wound up within them. It especially annoys me when people forget that Binge eating disorder is a thing too, and how it is so often untreated by ED teams.

    Thank you for sharing this 😀

  2. Jennifer G

    Thanks for taking the time to comment! I definitely agree that binge eating disorder is often overlooked and thought of as having a lack of willpower. I wish more people knew about binge eating disorder. So many people go undiagnosed and end up in the depression-binge cycle, blaming themselves. If only this were a perfect world! 🙂

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