Eating disorders is one subject that is very important to address, especially since it usually has its onset during the teenage years but can even develop at a younger age and continue well into the adolescent years. Eating disorders can cause a lot of conflict, stress and even death in families and thus it’s important to understand the types, causes and treatment.
There are various types of eating disorders. The most common ones according to the South African College of Applied Psychology include binge eating disorder, where the sufferer overeats; anorexia nervosa, where the sufferer eats too little; bulimia nervosa, where the sufferer attempts to rid themselves of food they’ve consumed; and even rumination disorders where the sufferer regurgitates food.
“The most common factors that come into play are that the person is anxious about their physical appearance, and how it appears to others around them. This also includes that the image that they have of their own bodies, are distorted. Subsequently, they also have eating behaviours that are maladaptive. Research has further shown that eating disorders affect both genders, although they occur more frequently among females,” says Dr Serahni Symington, Child and Adolescent Play Therapist.
Dr Symington says that the causes of eating disorders must be understood from an integrative model, because there is not a single causal factor that leads to the development of it. Multiple factors could lead to the development of an eating disorder and is often also accompanied by other diseases like manic depression, anxiety, possessive compulsiveness disorder and substance abuse.
According to reports by psychologytoday.com, researchers have long been probing the underlying causes and nature of eating disorders. Unlike a neurological disorder, which generally can be pinpointed to a specific lesion on the brain, an eating disorder likely involves abnormal activity distributed across multiple neural systems.
Eating disorders appear to run in families, and there is ongoing research on genetic contributions to the conditions. Other factors—psychological, interpersonal, and social—can play a role in eating disorders. Among identified psychological factors are low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy and lack of control in life, depression, anxiety, anger, and loneliness.
Interpersonal factors include troubled family and personal relationships, difficulty expressing emotions and feelings, a history of being teased or ridiculed based on size and weight, or a history of physical or sexual abuse. Social factors that can contribute include cultural pressures that glorify thinness and place value on obtaining the “perfect” body, narrow societal definitions of beauty that include only those people of specific body weights and shapes, or cultural norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance and not inner qualities and strengths.
People with anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight even though they may be dangerously thin. In bulimia nervosa, despite usually weighing within the normal range for their age and height, sufferers, like individuals with anorexia, may fear gaining weight, desire to lose weight, and feel intensely dissatisfied with their bodies. Many with binge-eating disorders are overweight for their age and height. Feelings of self-disgust and shame associated can lead to bingeing again, creating a cycle of binge-eating.
Because of their complexity, eating disorders require a comprehensive treatment plan involving medical care and monitoring, professional interventions, nutritional counselling, psychotherapy, and, when appropriate, medication management.
Treatment for eating disorders lies in recognizing and overcoming underlying triggers. Depending on the type of eating disorder and its associated underlying triggers; medications can be used to ease symptoms of co-occurring disorders such as depression and anxiety. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) are known to help reduce binging and purging and is specifically used in some cases of bulimia nervosa.
The first-line treatment for all eating disorders is psychotherapy, which encompasses a broad range of therapy approaches such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectal behavioural therapy (DBT) which aim to recognize and reduce the harmful thoughts and emotions associated with the eating disorder and works to develop productive coping mechanisms and tools to help the individual engage in positive thoughts, emotions, and behaviours in order to overcome their past traumas and low self-esteem. Other skills and tools learned in therapy include mindfulness, relapse prevention skills, meditation, nutrition counselling, art therapy, and relationship building.
The good news
Eating disorders can be treated, and a healthy weight can be restored. The sooner an eating disorder is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome is likely to be.
Wingu Wellness Hub
Parents who have any concerns about eating disorders and wellbeing of their children can contact the Wingu Wellness Hub to assist with guidance to get the help they need.