Are you consumed by what you consume?
Food is a necessity for all living things. But there are some people who are tortured by the very thought of food when either eating or not eating becomes an addiction.
According to the Mayo Clinic, those suffering from eating disorders are so preoccupied with food and weight that they focus on nothing else. Mayo Clinic lists the main types of eating disorders as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. In all of these disorders, people are typically obsessed with food and exercise, and suffer from low self-esteem and a distorted body image.
According to the Mayo Clinic, people suffering from anorexia nervosa are obsessed with being thin and in extreme cases will starve themselves to death. Symptoms of anorexia include refusing to eat, an intense fear of gaining weight, and health complications such as constipation, dry skin, and low blood pressure.
Those living with bulimia will binge, meaning they consume a large amount of food in a short amount of time, and then purge, which means they vomit to get rid of the excess calories. They sometimes even turn to laxatives or other substances to purge. Symptoms of bulimia can include feeling that you cannot eating behavior, constant dieting or fasting, and damaged teeth and gums from purging.
With binge-eating disorder, people eat more food than they need. They tend to eat when they are not even hungry and continue to eat after being full. They typically feel guilty or ashamed after, which can then lead to another binge, but they will not try to purge or exercise after. Symptoms with binging include eating until in pain, quickly eating food, eating in privacy, and feeling depressed afterward. While mostly females suffer from eating disorders, men and women almost equally suffer from the binge-eating disorder.
There is hope for those who seek help.
“A lot of people suffering from eating disorders often have suffered from sort of trauma," says therapist Juanita Sell, who started an eating disorders program at Del Amo Hospital in 1999. "Something that’s as basic as eating, which we all need to do, can be such a disturbance and a preoccupation, and it’s sad to see people deprive themselves or lose control over something that’s so nourishing for life. It’s a complex problem.”
"Eating disorders are very tied into the sociological aspect," says Sell. "In some countries, there’s not an emphasis on looking a certain way. Some people are just struggling to get enough nourishment.”
Sell says the media has a large influence on how people are “supposed to look.” There is a larger emphasis on how females should look than on how males look. If woman is a mere five pounds over society’s standards, she is hyper-criticized, whereas men have to be substantially overweight to be criticized, and even then, if they are funny or rich, their appearance is not as important, she says.
The Del Amo program is very much a psychological program, and very comprehensive. The program offers different means of help including family, individual, and group therapy sessions, on-site registered dietitians, medical doctors, spiritual aspects, and addresses psychological and emotional aspects, Sell says.
Sell suggests that those considering seeking help be preventive and proactive, getting help right away, rather than waiting until the disorder gets worse. Dealing with an eating disorder can require constant supervision and attention.
Sell believes that after dealing with all kinds of mental disorders, treating people with eating disorders is the hardest area to treat because it is so complex. With eating disorders, it’s very complicated in the physical part, because we as humans need a certain amount of nourishment to survive and to maintain a certain level health. And by definition, the more advanced the behaviors, whether it is restricting or purging, it’s all driven by psychological problems. Basically, it’s a very ineffective coping mechanism to deal with a number of emotional issues.
One can get so caught up in the behaviors and numbers of how much they weigh, calories and their clothing size, that it can be a preoccupation that takes the person away from what’s really bothering them, whether its trauma or anxiety. Trauma does not have to be some big significant event; it can be a life time of invalidation.
According to Sell, eating disorders are always about some emotional issue and mental aspect
People with anorexia tend to be more rigid, whereas people with bulimia tend to be more impulsive, says Sell. People with eating disorders are usually not in touch with their feelings, so they focus on the physical or this mental image because what they are feeling emotionally is too painful or too overwhelming.
The longer someone has been practicing these eating disorder habits, the harder it is to break, says Sell. They become a routine, and the body and hormones are all off balance. It is a vicious cycle. The prognosis for anorexics can be bleak, as anorexia has the highest death rate of all psychiatric disorders.
“The mindset and rigidity are the hardest things to break through because people often lose perception of what they really look like," says Sell. "They become so obsessed with these almost arbitrary numbers like calories eaten or a number on the scale, and become out of touch with their feelings."
"A lot of the work is asking what are you really feeling right now," says Sell. "Then them learning how to tolerate the distressful feelings and cognitive distortions like thinking 'I’m really fat,' or 'I blew it because I ate a doughnut; I might as well kill myself.'"
Sell says that people can become so self-absorbed that they lose touch with everything else, and those around them give up on them because they are tired of it.
She suggests getting in touch with value systems, and focusing on something besides body image. She also recommends seeking help, and focusing on strengths or positive qualities while replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, and not giving up hope.