Eating disorders affect almost 5% of the population worldwide. These disorders usually develop during adolescence but can develop in adulthood as well.
Some disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, are more common in women. However, these disorders can affect anyone irrespective of gender, age, or other characteristics.
Eating disorders are severe conditions that can cause numerous complex medical issues and result in severe emotional distress.
People with severe eating disorders may require help from more than one medical professional to recover. To root out the issue in its entirety, not only is medical assistance required, but mental health counseling is also paramount since eating disorders are mainly psychological issues.
Some serious eating disorders may require daily supervision. Nurses can play a significant role in this regard. From the point a patient walks through the hospital doors until they leave, nurses are the primary point of contact for most patients.
From this critical position, nurses can help patients identify their eating disorders earlier.
These disorders almost always stay under the radar until they’ve progressed in severity. Developing the eye to recognize the signs of an eating disorder in a patient requires exceptional knowledge and skill.
To develop and gain that knowledge, nurses can pursue an MSN or DNP degree.
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Defining Eating Disorders
Eating disorders can be defined as certain behavioral conditions characterized by severe and persistent disturbances in an individual’s eating behaviors. Eating disorders are considered among the deadliest of mental illnesses. They can impair a person’s social, psychological, and physiological functioning.
So, let’s take a closer look at some of the common eating disorders:
Anorexia nervosa is one of the most commonly known eating disorders. This disorder is prevalent among women more than men and often starts during adolescence or early adulthood.
People suffering from anorexia view themselves as overweight despite often being severely underweight. They restrict their food intake and try to eat as little as possible.
Some common symptoms of anorexia nervosa are:
- Considerably underweight as compared to other people of their age
- Engaging in restricted eating behaviors
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Engaging in behaviors that will prevent them from gaining weight
- They have a distorted body image and may face self-esteem issues due to it
- They deny accepting that they are underweight
- May also develop depression and anxiety
- They may use laxatives, diet pills and often fall ill
There can be many long-term side effects of anorexia nervosa if it goes undiagnosed and untreated for a long time. For instance, such people may face fertility issues, weak or brittle nails, and hair.
Moreover, the lack of important nutrients can also lead to organ failure.
Bulimia is characterized by binge eating episodes where they eat till it is painful. This is followed by purging. This includes behaviors like forced vomiting, excessive exercise, using laxatives, and so on.
Common symptoms include:
- Recurring episodes of binge eating and inability to control them
- Fear of gaining weight
- Frequently engaging in purging behaviors to avoid weight gain
- Self-esteem and body image issues
Bulimia nervosa can negatively impact one’s physical health if not treated. People with this disorder may experience a sore throat, digestive problems, dehydration, and hormonal imbalances. Moreover, they also have higher chances of experiencing a stroke.
Binge Eating Disorder
This is one of the most common eating disorders in the United States. It often gets confused with bulimia nervosa. However, it does not include purging behaviors.
People with BED eat large amounts of food and cannot control themselves.
This disorder is characterized by the following:
- Eating large amounts of food in a short time, even if they do not feel hungry
- Unable to control or stop eating
- Feelings of guilt and shame regarding this behavior
- Absence of purging behaviors
Pica is a disorder in which a person craves non-food items like sand, soap, paper, chalk, ice, and more. It is commonly found in children, pregnant women, or people with mental disabilities.
Such people are at a higher risk of poisoning, gut injuries, and various deficiencies.
This disorder can affect anyone, irrespective of their age. In this disorder, a person tends to regurgitate food, swallow it, chew it again then swallow or spit it out.
It can also result in severe malnutrition and extreme weight loss if it is not properly treated.
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
ARFID starts during infancy or early childhood but can also persist into adulthood. Furthermore, it is commonly found in both men and women.
In this disorder, the person has disturbed eating patterns due to a lack of interest in eating or dislike towards certain tastes and smells.
Common symptoms include:
- Avoiding or restricting food intake
- Eating habits interfere with normal social functioning
- Malnutrition and weight loss
- May also be dependent on supplements of tube feeding
How Can An Eating Disorder Be Treated?
Even though eating disorders are severe and can cause numerous problems, they are treatable. People suffering from disorders can recover and lead healthy lives with the help of early detection and the proper treatment.
Some treatment methods for eating disorders are:
This is effective for all eating disorders. It helps identify underlying issues, which helps understand the causes of the disorder. Moreover, it helps establish healthy eating patterns and coping mechanisms.
It is also used to deal with the psychological side effects of eating disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Commonly used therapeutic interventions include CBT, behavioral therapy, and family therapy.
Medication can be used for treating the side effects of eating disorders. For instance, anti-depressants can be prescribed to fight off depression and increase serotonin levels.
Nutritional counseling helps the patient in learning about healthy eating habits. It helps you recognize signs of hunger and satiation. Furthermore, following a healthy diet plan helps you maintain body weight and overcome any deficiencies caused by the disorder.
This option is often required for severe cases requiring intensive treatment and care. However, it is not very common.
Eating disorders are mental health conditions that involve disturbed eating behaviors. Moreover, these disorders can hurt a person’s mental and physical health. Therefore, they require effective and immediate treatment as they can worsen if left untreated.
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Erin is the mother of identical twin girls and their slightly older brother. She is a domestic engineer, and previously had a career leading customer service teams for a major HVAC company. Cleaning without harsh chemicals, and cooking easy and usually healthy meals are part of Erin's daily life. She volunteers with youth leaders, and genuinely wants to help others win. Erin has a degree in Communications, with a focus on Broadcast Journalism.