One woman shared her struggles with an eating disorder during the coronavirus pandemic.
An eating disorder is a mental disorder defined by abnormal eating habits that negatively affect a person’s physical and/or mental health. Types of eating disorders include binge eating disorder, where people eat a large amount in a short period of time. Anorexia nervosa, where people have an intense fear of gaining weight and restrict food or over exercise to manage this fear.
Bulimia nervosa, where people eat a lot and then try to rid themselves of the food; pica, where people eat non-food items; rumination syndrome, where people regurgitate food; avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), where people have a reduced or selective food intake due to some psychological reasons (see below); and a group of other specified feeding or eating disorders.
The causes are not clear, although both biological and environmental factors appear to play a role. Eating disorders affect about 12 percent of dancers. Cultural idealization of thinness is believed to contribute to some eating disorders. Individuals who have experienced sexual abuse are also more likely to develop eating disorders. Some disorders such as pica and rumination disorder occur more often in people with intellectual disabilities. Only one eating disorder can be diagnosed at a given time.
Treatment varies by disorder and may involve counseling, dietary advice, reducing excessive exercise and the reduction of efforts to eliminate food. Medications may be used to help with some of the associated symptoms. Hospitalization may be needed in more serious cases. About 70% of people with anorexia and 50% of people with bulimia recover within five years. Recovery from binge eating disorder is less clear and estimated at 20% to 60%. Both anorexia and bulimia increase the risk of death.
In the developed world, anorexia affects about 0.4% and bulimia affects about 1.3% of young women in a given year. Binge eating disorder affects about 1.6% of women and 0.8% of men in a given year. Among women about 4% have anorexia, 2% have bulimia, and 2% have binge eating disorder at some time in their life. Rates of eating disorders appear to be lower in less developed countries. Anorexia and bulimia occur nearly ten times more often in females than males. Eating disorders typically begin in late childhood or early adulthood. Rates of other eating disorders are not clear.
Many people with eating disorders also have body dysmorphic disorder, altering the way a person sees oneself. Studies have found that a high proportion of individuals diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder also had some type of eating disorder, with 15% of individuals having either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. This link between body dysmorphic disorder and anorexia stems from the fact that both BDD and anorexia nervosa are characterized by a preoccupation with physical appearance and a distortion of body image.
There are also many other possibilities such as environmental, social and interpersonal issues that could promote and sustain these illnesses. Also, the media are oftentimes blamed for the rise in the incidence of eating disorders due to the fact that media images of idealized slim physical shape of people such as models and celebrities motivate or even force people to attempt to achieve slimness themselves.
The media are accused of distorting reality, in the sense that people portrayed in the media are either naturally thin and thus unrepresentative of normality or unnaturally thin by forcing their bodies to look like the ideal image by putting excessive pressure on themselves to look a certain way. While past findings have described eating disorders as primarily psychological, environmental, and sociocultural, further studies have uncovered evidence that there is a genetic component.
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