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What’s eating you?

by Emma Kelsall

Imagine the scene. It’s a Friday night and you’ve just gotten home from an exhausting week at school. All you want to do is kick your feet up and relax. You switch on the TV to Real Talk with Bill Maher and he’s talking about something called ‘fat shaming’. He rambles on, claiming, “fat shaming doesn’t need to end, it needs to make a comeback.” Maybe as the show continues you tire of it, scrolling mindlessly through your Instagram feed, littered with the perfect models and the muscular gym bros we all follow and love. Perhaps as all these factors come into play, you begin to regret those Cheetos that you devoured at lunch and start to feel like you’re not good enough because of the way you look.

Perhaps some of you may relate to parts of that. Perhaps for some, it hits too close to home. Perhaps, and though you may not realise it, you or a loved one may have developed an eating disorder. But what are eating disorders? Why are they so serious? What can be done to help? 

Eating disorders are an umbrella term for a range of conditions relating to abnormal or disturbed eating habits. There are many different types of eating disorders, commonly deriving from an obsession with food, weight or body shape. They can lead to serious and lifetime consequences, so it is important to spot and treat them as early as possible. Some of the most common eating disorders include:

Anorexia Nervosa – Perhaps the most well known of the eating disorders, sufferers of anorexia often view themselves as overweight, even if they are dangerously underweight. They will likely constantly monitor their weight, severely restrict their daily intake of calories and avoid eating certain types of food.

Bulimia Nervosa – Sufferers of bulimia will often eat large amounts of food in a short amount of time, a behaviour commonly referred to as ‘binging’. The sufferer tends to eat until they are painfully full and consume foods they would normally avoid. Binges are commonly followed by purging behaviours such as excessive exercise, diuretics, enemas, laxatives or forced vomiting.

Binge Eating Disorder – Only having been recognised as an eating disorder recently, sufferers tend to eat large amounts of food in a short period of time and tend to feel a loss of control during binges. However, they do not experience purging behaviours following these episodes.

EDNOS – This stands for “Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified.” One disorder that commonly falls under the EDNOS category, but is yet to be identified as a separate disorder is orthorexia, in which the sufferer is obsessed with having a healthy diet, meaning they may avoid foods containing artificial colours or flavourings, pesticides, GMO products, animal products and others.

The effects of these illnesses can be catastrophic. Many sufferers do not realise the damage such restriction or excessiveness does to their bodies. Electrolyte imbalances and breakdown of muscle tissue can result in heart failure and death. Severe dehydration can cause kidney failure. Periods of binging can cause gastric ruptures. Purging can cause inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus. Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis are also possible. These effects may sound extreme and gruesome, but it is the unfortunate and very possible reality for those who live with these conditions.  

Though these disorders are horrific things for the sufferers to go through they can be stopped early by identifying the symptoms. Here’s what to look out for:

  • Obsessive behaviours around weight, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams, or dieting
  • Refusal to eat certain foods or entire categories of food (i.e. carbohydrates)
  • Food rituals (such as excessive chewing, not letting food touch, eating alone, etc.)
  • Appearing uncomfortable eating around others
  • Skipping meals or eating very small portions at regular meals
  • Withdrawal from usual people or activities
  • Extreme concern with body size and shape and/or frequent checking of reflection for perceived flaws
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Noticeable weight fluctuations
  • Gastrointestinal complaints (e.g. stomach cramps, constipation, acid reflux)
  • Irregular menstruation patterns or not menstruating at all
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Dizziness or fainting especially when standing up
  • Feeling cold all of the time
  • Sleep problems
  • Cuts or calluses across the top of finger joints (from binging/purging)
  • Dental problems (e.g. enamel erosion, cavities, tooth sensitivity, discolouration)
  • Dry skin and hair, brittle nails or bald patches
  • Fine hair on body known as lanugo
  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor wound healing or impaired immune functioning

The Guardian claims that the current amount of hospital admissions for eating disorders are the highest in eight years. There were 7,260 recorded hospitalisations in relation to eating disorders in 2010. By April 2018, this number rose to 16,023 recorded cases, more than doubling the previous figure. But what caused these numbers to grow?

There are a multitude of reasons why there has been such an increase in these cases. Increased exam stress and societal and peer pressure could be causes, though perhaps the main one is the rise in usage of social media. 

Social media has given platforms to many creators, who may themselves not even realise that their content is problematic, that enforce ideals which may encourage eating disorders. It is commonly known that everyone looks better on social media, through filters, angles and FaceTune, we can achieve our desired appearance. Despite this, it can be difficult to tell how much of the photograph is actually real, and can leave many with a warped perception of how their body should look, especially if posted on a large platform. 

Furthermore, the rise of fitness blogs and fad diets has only been upheld by the rise of social media. While there is nothing wrong with working out and eating healthily, and many of these blogs encourage this in the right way, anyone and everyone can have a say. We’ve heard them all; keto this, paleo that, dairy is evil, carbs are a sin. However, the science behind these hardcore diets is difficult to prove. The internet has become a breeding ground for pseudoscience and the impacts on those viewing it have been detrimental. Infact, cutting out entire food groups has had lasting impacts even on those who push them. Early menopause and malnutrition have been the fate of many hardcore keto fitness bloggers and fans alike. It can be difficult to distinguish the genuine scientists from the pseudoscientists when online. On the internet anyone can put out any information they want to, be it true or false, thus causing a multitude of problems and scams.

The overwhelming presence of the media only adds to the pressure upon young people. We consume media wherever we go. It’s on our phones, our televisions, our radios, plastered to the sides of buildings. The media is completely inescapable in our modern world, increasing the pressure to always look our best.

Though all is not lost. Early diagnosis is the best way to combat eating disorders. While these illnesses can be very complex and tough to deal with, the sooner someone gets help, the greater the chances of recovery. If you believe that you or a loved one is suffering, contact 1-800-931-2237 or go to www.nationaleatingdisorders.org for more information.

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