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Eating disorders can be hard to spot but are treatable

Although there has been a lot of literature and media written about eating disorders .

Craig Lindsay

 

West Kootenay Advertiser

 

Although there has been a lot of literature and media written about eating disorders — there is still a huge stigma attached to this mental disorder.

“Eating disorders are characterized by a significant change in eating habits such as an extreme and unhealthy reduction of food intake or overeating. There is also an exaggerated concern about one’s body shape or weight”, said Javier Gonzalez Plasencia, M.A. Counseling Psychology and team leader for the West Kootenays for Child and Youth Mental Health for the Ministry for Children and Family Development.

There are three main eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.

“It’s important to remember that these disorders are about much more than food,” said Gonzalez, “they’re also about how you feel about yourself, how you cope with your feelings and other factors. The media has created images of what we should look like creating unrealistic and unhealthy expectations of what our body should look like.”

Both anorexia and bulimia are mental illnesses that affect how you feel about your body and how you eat.

“With anorexia there is a preoccupation and obsession with having a thin or skinny figure.  There is also the fear of gaining weight,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said with bulimia you eat an excessive amount of food in a short period of time, which is called binge eating, and then have the urge to purge or get rid of what you just ate. “While you eat, you might feel like you can’t control how much you eat,” he said. “You also might feel good while you’re eating but when you’re finished eating you might be very concerned about your body weight and image. As a result, you try to purge the food.”

Like anorexia, people living with bulimia may also think they’re much bigger than they really are or feel like they’d be a better person if they were thin, he added.

“It can be hard to tell if someone is living with bulimia because they may not lose a lot of weight and they may secretly binge and purge,” said Gonzalez. “But even though bulimia isn’t always as visible as anorexia, it can still cause a lot of serious long-term problems.”

The other main eating disorder, binge-eating disorder, is mental illness that affects the way a person eats.

“You can’t control what you eat,” said Gonzalez. “With this disorder, you eat a lot in a short period of time (binge) with episodes where you can’t control what you eat or how much you eat, but you feel distressed, disgusted, guilty or depressed after eating. This binging is associated with toxic stress”.

Gonzalez said the difference between binge-eating and bulimia is that with binge-eating, people don’t try to purge the food they just ate.

Anorexia nervosa affects between 0.5 and four per cent of women in Canada and bulimia nervosa affects between one and four per cent of women in Canada. Binge-eating affects about two per cent of all people in Canada.

About 90 per cent of people diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia are women, but binge-eating disorder affects men and women equally.

“All these disorders often start in the teenage and young adult years, though they can also start earlier or later in life, too,” said Gonzalez. “Eating disorders also tend to run in families. So you have a higher risk of developing an eating disorder if a close family member also has an eating disorder.”

Gonzalez said it’s very important for anyone with an eating disorder to get help because binging, purging and/or severely limiting food intake can cause a lot of serious health problems. “But eating disorders are very treatable and many people recover with treatment,” he added.

Gonzalez said the first step in treatment is talking to a doctor who can determine whether it is a physical issue or is, in fact, an eating disorder and what can be done to treat it.

Treatment options can include: counseling, nutritional help from a nutritionist, support groups, medication and, if necessary, hospitalization.