Eating disorders, disordered eating and your mental health

I’ve come across people who confuse eating disorders (EDs) with disordered eating and vice versa. YES, believe it or not, they’re two separate terms with different meanings. A little overlapping but still… different. EDs by definition are serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact your health, your emotions and your ability to function in important areas of life. Disordered eating on the other hand is used to describe a range of irregular eating behaviors that may or may not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder. The most significant difference between an ED and disordered eating is that the latter is more of a descriptive phase and not a diagnosis. 

There are misconceptions that EDs are mainly related to food and are a lifestyle choice. They are medically identified as a mental illness irrespective of how densely they stand on the spectrum and are a consequence of various factors. Preoccupation with food, body weight and shape may also indicate an ED. 

There are various types of EDs. The most common ones seen in individuals are Anorexia Nervosa (AN), Bulimia Nervosa (BN) and Binge Eating Disorder (BED). 

  • AN comprises restricting the amount of food one eats in fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. This leads to a significantly alarming low weight in accordance to one’s age and height. Medically, an individual weighing 80% of the recommended weight or having a BMI of less than 15, can be diagnosed as anorexic.  
  • BN mainly involves recurrent binge eating sessions followed by compensatory behaviours such as self induced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives etc out of guilt. Fasting and binging cycles are also associated with this disorder. One usually weighs in the recommended weight range or a little higher than that in most cases. The severity is measured by the number of times one ends up following through with the compensatory behaviours in a week.  

  • BED is similar to BN. This disorder is characterised by just binge eating episodes which do not end up in any kind of compensatory behaviour as mentioned above for BN. It consists of eating at a faster pace, eating until one is uncomfortably full. For binge eating to be diagnosed as a disorder, there has to be presence of emotional distress over binge eating in addition to the fact that the episodes take place at least once a week for 3 months. 

The causes of an ED are unknown. It has been observed that preoccupation with food, body weight and shape can trigger an ED. Other external factors like society culture, peer pressure etc also add to the possibility of developing an eating disorder. It has been found that 15 people out of every 100 who are diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) have a history of anorexia. This is probably due to the fact that both anorexia and BDD are characterised by distortion of body image. We can see that a trigger for an ED is not the food but a lot of other emotional and physical factors which affect one’s psyche. 

Recovery from these disorders doesn’t come easily but it is not an impossible task either. Seeking medical help becomes necessary after a certain point in time. The treatment process includes a combination of psychotherapy, nutrition education and medication if required. Usually, the medicines are given to suppress someone’s appetite in order to avoid binge eating. In some extreme cases of anorexia where the individual is not able to eat or gain weight, one might have to be kept under constant medical surveillance initially. 

Anyway, in the end, mirrors are just glass and you’re so much more than that 🙂

Meghna Saxena 

SY BSc  

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