mental health

Eating disorders and mental health

Eating disorders are serious psychological illnesses that have the highest mortality rate among mental health issues. Different types of eating disorders can lead to severe malnutrition and ultimately death. However, if psychological intervention is done at the right time, there is a high likelihood of full recovery.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), “About 9% of the US population have eating disorders in their lifetime, and about 26% of those people attempt suicide. There’s one death every 52 minutes due to eating disorders.” 

Are eating disorders mental illnesses?

Eating disorders are classified as mental illnesses due to a wide range of behavioral symptoms such as mood changes, irritability, social withdrawal, and many others. That is why DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has termed eating disorders complex mental health problems that need psychological and medical support.

Types of eating disorders:

Depending upon the characteristics and symptoms, eating disorders are classified into the following main types:

  1. Anorexia nervosa: People with anorexia have an obsession with their body weight. They tend to self-starve, deny hunger, and practice binge behaviors to keep their body in shape. Ultimately, they develop depression, anxiety, poor concentration, and chronic fatigue. Physical symptoms may include stress fractures, menstrual period cease, cold intolerance, severe constipation, and muscle weakness.
  2. Bulimia nervosa: It is characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, laxatives, or excessive fasting to counter the effects of binge eating on the body. Such patients experience inappropriate guilt, shame, and distress after binge eating. They are also more prone to pancreatitis, tooth decay, gastric rupture, and heart failure.
  3. Other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED): Patients who do not meet the above two criteria are placed into this section. Main examples include the following: 
    • Purging disorder in which patients purge without binge eating.
    • Night eating syndrome in which patients consume excessive food at nighttime.

Treatment of eating disorders:

Treatment of eating disorder vary from person to person and depends on the type. Generally, it includes the following:

  1. Psychotherapy: It is the main line of treatment for eating disorders in which a mental health professional uses different psychotherapies to assess and neutralize the root cause behind these disorders.
  2. Medications such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety pills, usually prescribed by a psychiatrist or a medical doctor after assessing the severity of symptoms.
  3. Nutritional counseling and monitoring of diet.
  4. Support from immediate family.

When to seek a mental health professional?

One should seek support from a mental health professional if he experiences the following:

  • Changes in behavior regarding food.
  • Obsessive or intrusive thoughts about food intake or food planning.
  • Emotional imbalances regarding food consumption. For instance, feeling of guilt or shame after food intake.
  • Use of compensatory behaviors after food consumption, such as laxatives, diuretics, or self-induced vomiting.
  • Water loading by drinking excessive water to manipulate body weight.
  • Significant body changes or weight loss.

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