From drastic weight losses to frequent trips to the bathroom or unusually fussy eating habits, the signs of having an eating disorder can easily be passed off as being a perfectionist or a health freak. But check again. Are you carrying your quest for perfection a bit too far?
While there’s a strong pressure to look good, the drive to ‘stay fit’ is also turning out to be an obsession, say experts. “The obsession with one’s appearance is one of the major causes behind this disorder, with the society going gaga over models with unrealistic slim figures,” says nutritionist Neelanjana Singh of PSRI Hospital. So, as the world observes the Eating Disorder Awareness Week (Feb 24 to Mar 2), we find out the main triggers behind this disorder, its manifestations and how can you prevent it.
Types of disorders
What: Bulimia is the binge-purge cycle due to emotional distress. “Bulimics eat a lot when stressed. Later, they feel guilty and try to compensate by forced vomiting, over-exercising or abusing laxatives,” says psychologist Pulkit Sharma.
Symptoms: Evidence of binging or purging, tooth decay or bad breath due to frequent purging, excessive exercising.
Expert speak: Bulimia can cause gum diseases, ulcers or cardiac arrest. “Alternative stress coping methods and maintaining a food diary to find what triggers the binge can help,” says dietician Sandhya Pandey of Columbia Asia Hospital.
What: Binge eaters indulge in uncontrolled overeating to escape stressful situations without any efforts to make up for the binge that are usually done by bulimics.
Symptoms: Feeling tension that is only relieved by eating, feeling powerless to stop eating during a binge session, sudden weight gain.
Bingeing may lead to obesity, cardiac problems, high blood pressure and orthopedic problems. “Encouraging the patient to resolve stressful situations, taking up a hobby can help relieve the stress,” says psychologist Pulkit Sharma of VIMHANS.
What: Though not an officially recognised disorder, orthorexia is characterised by excessive obsession with eating healthy.
Symptoms: Constantly looking for ways to deem food unhealthy, self-loathing after a binge, social isolation.
Expert speak: Orthorexia is not easily to tackle because people hide behind the ‘eating healthy’ facade. It causes tension due to obsessing about food, weight loss, side effects of taking too many supplements.
“Timely intervention by a nutritionist and counselling can help,” says dietician Sandhya Pandey.
What: Anorexia patients see themselves as being fat or overweight, even though they are not. They undertake extreme measures to control their diet and appetite such as starving themselves.
Symptoms: Intense fear of being ‘fat’ even though underweight, loss of menstrual periods, hair loss, brittle nails and teeth , low energy levels.
Expert speak: Anorexics can suffer from osteoporosis, severe dehydration causing kidney and heart failure. A good diet and psychotherapy can help, if it is detected at an early stage. “Medical treatment is necessary if malnutrition has begun to break down the body. Nutritional counselling is also important to avoid a relapse,” says nutritionist Neelanjana Singh.