What is the difference between anorexia and binge-eating disorder? They get a little confusing to me.
Signed: Eating/Feeding Disorders
Dear: Eating/Feeding Disorders
Eating/Feeding Disorders are complex mental health conditions that can affect individuals of any age, gender, or background. In Canada, like many other countries, Eating/Feeding Disorders are most prevalent among teenagers and adults. But we are seeing alarming patterns of disordered behaviours beginning in children as young as age 7 or 8.
This information is not meant as a therapeutic support – but here is some general information about the more common types of Eating/Feeding Disorders:
- Anorexia Nervosa: is characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight, leading to severe restriction of food intake and a distorted body image. People suffering with Anorexia may obsessively count calories; they may have compensatory behaviours (like over-exercising, vomiting and misusing laxatives and diuretics); and they may avoid social situations involving food. They may experience dramatic weight loss, nutrient deficiencies, and physical symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, and thinning hair. Anorexia can have severe medical complications, including organ failure, osteoporosis, and heart problems.
- Bulimia Nervosa: involves recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by the same kinds of compensatory behaviors. Individuals struggling with bulimia often have a normal weight or may fluctuate between weight extremes due to the cycle of binging and purging. They may feel a loss of control during binge episodes and experience guilt, shame, and anxiety afterward. Bulimia can lead to electrolyte imbalances, tooth decay, gastrointestinal issues, and esophageal damage.
- Binge-Eating Disorder (BED): is characterized by repeatedly consuming large amounts of food within a short period, accompanied by a sense of loss of control. People with BED often eat rapidly, even when not hungry, and feel distressed or guilty afterward. Unlike bulimia, individuals with BED do not engage in compensatory behaviors. This disorder is commonly associated with obesity, and can contribute to various physical health complications such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.
- Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): used to be referred to as “Selective Eating Disorder.” It involves limitations in the amount and/or types of food consumed, but without the distress about body shape or size. A person with ARFID does not consume enough calories to grow and develop properly or to maintain basic body function. This can result in stalled weight gain, slowed vertical growth, and unhealthy weight loss. ARFID can also result in problems at school or work, due to difficulties eating with others, the extended times needed to eat, and the effects of malnutrition on the brain’s ability to function. There is also high risk for electrolyte imbalance, organ failure and cardiac arrest.
- PICA: is a condition that largely affects pregnant women and children. People feel compelled to eat non-food items, such as dirt, soap, ice, chalk, rocks and other items that can be quite dangerous. The urge to eat these items sometimes stems from nutritional deficiencies in the body; or as a strategy used to support unhealthy dieting (to make a person feel full); or from triggers that are associated with other mental health issues (like schizophrenia and OCD). This Disorder tends to be more temporary than the others that I have mentioned. But the risks associated depend largely on the items being consumed. They can include poisoning, parasitic infections, internal blockages, damage to internal organs, and choking.
There is also a more recently identified condition, not yet recognized as its own disorder, called Orthorexia Nervosa, which is an eating issue that involves a fixation on healthy eating. A person with this issue focuses so much on optimal nutrition that it impacts other aspects of their life. This issue revolves largely around food quality, not quantity. People with this issue obsess over the perceived healthfulness of food rather than on the idea of losing weight or being thin. They may develop unintentional malnutrition or weight loss issues (due to severe food restrictions), avoid social outings, or try to cure physical diseases through healthy eating alone. Orthorexia is often connected to other mental health issues like obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression and can lead to the development of other eating disorders.
Factors contributing to the development of Eating/Feeding Disorders in our Canadian population are multi-layered and can include societal pressures, cultural influences, genetic predisposition, low self-esteem, perfectionism, trauma, and family dynamics. The portrayal of unrealistic body standards in social media and the peer pressure to conform to certain beauty ideals can contribute significantly to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating behaviors.
Eating/Feeding Disorders are highly complicated issues. Addressing these illnesses requires a comprehensive and networked approach with healthcare professionals, educators, parents, and the affected individuals themselves. Singular supports will not usually be effective. Specialized interventions will include a combination of medical, nutritional, and psychological supports, all happening at the same time.
Early intervention, education about healthy body image, the promotion of positive self-esteem, and the encouragement of open conversations about mental health are crucial. These disorders have significant physical, emotional, and social impacts both on the individual who has the disorder and on their loved ones.
If you or someone you know seems to be struggling with disordered eating/feeding patterns, please reach out right away. There is a terrific organization that anyone can access – the Eating Disorder Support Network of Alberta (edsna.ca) or you can talk to you doctor or to a therapist that has the specialized training to help with these Disorders. Without help, things will likely get much worse.
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