In the United States, as many as 10 million females and 1 million males struggle with an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, and millions more struggle with binge eating disorders.
For that reason, February 26th through March 3rd is recognized as National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.
According to Memorial Registered Dietician Tim Scallon, there is a difference between disordered eating and an eating disorder. Scallon explains many people take part in disordered eating, whether during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays or at Super Bowl parties, in which copious amounts of food are consumed.
An eating disorder, however, is a psychological disease in which a person is overwhelmingly preoccupied with food and weight and attempts to control weight gain or weight loss through unhealthy means.
There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating.
• An individual suffering from anorexia nervosa refuses to maintain a minimally normal body weight, is intensely afraid of gaining weight, and exhibits a significant distortion in the perception of the shape or size of his or her body, as well as dissatisfaction with his or her body shape and size, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Personality traits include obsessive compulsive behaviors, perfectionism, secrecy, usually compliant in nature and emotionally restrained.
• Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting or other purging methods – laxatives, diuretics, excessive exercise and fasting – in an attempt to avoid weight gain. Personality traits include impulsive or erratic behaviors, low self-esteem and the extreme need for attention.
• Binge eating disorder is much like bulimia nervosa, however, the person affected does not purge in an attempt to prevent weight gain.
All are severe, life-threatening disorders and are progressive in nature. Because the body has a set way of using calories from protein, carbohydrates and fat, the disorders are extremely harmful. When that balance is off-set but a lack of required calories, the body goes into a starvation mode and begins to preserve the essential internal organs and tissues. Stored fat, antibodies and muscles begin to waste away, Scallon said. Organ failure and death could be the ultimate end result to an eating disorder.
Scallon said there are several factors that play into a person developing an eating disorder, including family rituals, media influence and social pressure.
“If food is used as a reward or a punishment that can affect a child’s eating behavior and their attitudes about food,” Scallon said. “Whether it’s a parent telling the child to eat everything on their plate because there are starving kids in China or telling a child to eat something because it will make them feel better, these become family rituals. In and of themselves, they are not bad, but some children develop unhealthy eating habits because of this. Media, also, promotes unrealistic images, and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to these images. And of course, there is plenty of social pressure on these kids to compete. All of that can play into kids developing an unhealthy self-image.”
Although most commonly seen in women, more than a million men and boys battle the illness every day, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
Treatment of any eating disorder must involve psychological counseling and dietary management.
Parents should be on the look-out for numerous signs, especially in adolescents, that could be evidence of an eating disorder.
• Frequently comments that he/she feels overweight
• Body image issues
• Reclusive or secretive behaviors
• Obsessive compulsive tendencies
• Obsession with food and/or weight loss
Parents should also encourage healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle. Focus on balanced meals of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meat and plenty of fiber in healthy portion sizes rather than limiting food intake, Scallon said.
Cutline: Memorial Registered Dietician and co-host of Memorial Cooking Innovations Tim Scallon says being healthy is all about eating a balance of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meat and plenty of fiber in healthy portion sizes rather than limiting food intake.