The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. Many doctors believe that it is a combination of risk factors that can cause someone to suffer from an eating disorder.
Societal pressure is a reality and with more exposure to social media, as well as the “perfect” body shape in Western culture, it can add pressure and contribute towards eating disorders.
What is an eating disorder?
An eating disorder is a serious illness relating to persistent eating behaviors that are harmful to your health, your emotions, and your ability to function in day to day life.
Eating disorders most often develop in teen and young adult years, although it is possible for them to develop at any age. Eating disorders affect both males and females.
Types of eating disorders
Those listed below are the most common eating disorders, but there are others outside of this list.
If you are suffering from anorexia nervosa, you will typically have a great fear about putting on weight, refusal to maintain healthy body weight and a distorted view of your body shape. Usually you would severely limit your intake of food, and still see yourself as being overweight, even when you are very underweight.
Anorexia can cause long-term health problems affecting your brain, your organs, your heart, your bones, and even your fertility. The risk of death is very real with anorexia.
There is more detailed information about anorexia on our website.
This is an eating disorder that is categorized with frequent binge eating and then followed by behaviors to compensate for the binge. You would do things like exercise excessively, force yourself to vomit or use laxatives to the extreme. You may worry about gaining weight and be very unhappy with your body weight and shape.
You would generally keep this binge and purge cycle a secret, so that those close to you wouldn’t know. You may often have feelings of guilt, shame and low self-esteem during these cycles.
Bulimia has long-term health effects such as damage to your gastrointestinal tract, heart difficulties due to electrolyte imbalance as well as severe dehydration.
Many people who have Bulimia also have Anorexia.
If you would like more information on Bulimia, please read further here.
If you suffer from binge-eating disorder, you may overeat compulsively. You may continue to eat even you are not hungry, or even when you are full. This is different from Bulimia, as you won’t compensate afterward by vomiting or over-exercising.
Because of this, you may become obese and have an increased risk of developing other conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular problems.
You may feel a lot of guilt, shame, and embarrassment due to their eating disorder.
Male versus females and eating disorders
It is more common for eating disorders to affect women than men, but they do affect men. As it is less common for men to be diagnosed with an eating disorder, it also means that men often delay asking for help around their condition.
It is important to speak to people who can help you and can give you treatment for your condition, such as the qualified and experienced medical staff at The Center • A Place of HOPE.
Causes and risk factors of eating disorders
Although the true cause of eating disorders is unknown, there are a variety of risk factors that could contribute to the development of the illness.
Factors such as:
- Irregular hormone balance
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Negative body image
- Poor self-esteem
- Dysfunctional family dynamic
- Professions that encourage being thin and weight loss, such as ballet and modeling
- Family and childhood trauma
- Stressful life changes
- Pressure from peers or family
- Other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety
Signs and symptoms of eating disorders
Some of the most common signs and symptoms to look out for you if you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder are:
- Abnormally low or high weight
- Skipping meals or making excuses not to eat
- Excessive focus on healthy eating
- Making own meals rather than eating together with family or friends
- Withdrawing from social activities
- Use of dietary supplements
- Calluses on the knuckles from vomiting
- Leaving during meals to sue the bathroom
- Eating more food than normal at a meal or as a snack
- Excessive exercise
- Eating in secret
- Expressing depression, guilt, shame about their eating habits
- Lethargic state
Prevention in children and young adults
Although it may not be possible to prevent eating disorders, you can make changes around your young children in order to help them develop a healthy relationship with their body and around food.
Make sure to reinforce a healthy body image, and have conversations with your child about what healthy looks like, and that there are many different shapes and sizes. Try not to criticize your own body in front of them as this starts to shape and change their ideas of the “perfect” body.
Be aware of how you discuss food and how to ensure a balanced diet with your children. Eating together as a family can help to develop good habits around food and can be a time to reinforce why food is so important to keep our bodies functioning.
Getting help for eating disorders
It is so important if you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder to get help and treatment for it.
If you have more questions about eating disorders that haven’t been answered here, then more information can be found on our FAQs page.