Eating Disorders Explained
“Perfect” bodies don’t exist but in the pursuit of perfection, some may succumb to eating disorders
In this day and age, most of us are bombarded by images of the ‘perfect’ looks via social media – the ‘perfect’ face shape, body proportions and more. It all may seem innocent but there are people who are at risk of developing eating disorders in order to reach this ‘perfection’. What they don’t realise is that these images could be doctored or the person could have been surgically enhanced. Sure, it could start out an innocent diet and exercise but it could quickly spiral out of control if they’re not careful.
What is an eating disorder
According to the official MyHEALTH Portal by the Ministry of Health Malaysia, an eating disorder refers to behaviours related to eating that puts an individual’s physical and psychosocial health in danger. Not all eating disorders are the same and the most common ones include:
- Refusal by the individual to maintain a normal body weight for their age and height. This leads to their body weight less than 85 percent of expected weight.
- Extreme fear of gaining weight even though the person is already underweight.
- Body image distortion and constant denial of the severity of their low body weight.
- Subtypes include – diet restriction where they purposely limit the amount of food they eat – binge eating/purging where they lose control of their appetite and eat a large amount of food followed by feelings of guilt and the intention to vomit the excess food out later.
- Low pulse rate and blood pressure
- Feeling tired and drowsy
- Dry skin and hair
- Obsessive thoughts
- Withdrawing from social situations to avoid eating
- Low self-esteem and increased perfectionism
- Missing period (amenorrheoa)
Recurring episodes of binge eating and to prevent weight gain, the individual practices self-induced vomiting, abuse laxatives and enemas. Non-purging activities include excessive exercise and fasting that threatens their health.
- Swollen salivary glands from frequent vomiting
- Irregular periods due to energy deficiency when the person is starving themselves
- Dental issues because of the acid present in vomit
- Stomach pain due to overstretching of the stomach from overeating
- Irritable bowels and dark mucous in the colon from abuse of laxatives
- Difficulty sleeping
- Hoarse voice
Binge Eating Disorder
- Episodes of eating quicker than the person normally does, eating until they feel uncomfortable, eating when they aren’t hungry which is followed by feelings of guilt and depression.
- Yo-yo weight loss and weight gain.
- Commonly affects adolescents, especially female teenagers.
The physical consequence of eating disorders is nutritional instability and its severity depends on how dysfunctional the individual’s eating habits are. Common abnormalities include loss of muscle mass, body fat and bone mineral and deficiencies in minerals, vitamins and trace elements. These all seem mild but it could cause growth retardation and late onset of puberty, loss of bone mass which could lead to osteoporosis and in severe cases, heart problems and death.
Psychologically, it could cause problems such as not adjusting well to puberty, social isolation and family conflict, low self-esteem, and mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.
How to help
The number one piece of advice that is found across a myriad of sources say, “Seek help”. Talk to your parents, friends, teacher or anyone else you trust and seek immediate medical help. There would also be a psychological aspect as well in your treatment. If you are found to be malnourished, don’t worry about being hospitalised as it is done in order to help you get better and healthier.
We’re not going to sugarcoat it. Treatment is an uphill slog with many challenges and progress is slow. There will be medical and dietary management which you must adhere to in order to reach your goal of a healthier self. Having family support or the support of friends and loved ones would greatly help your treatment along with an understanding healthcare provider.
Medically, some individuals may be hospitalised for monitoring especially if there are abnormalities in their organ functions, especially cardiovascular function, abnormal levels of vitamin and/or minerals, and electrolyte imbalances. Depending on the individual’s diagnosis, sometimes, antidepressants are indicated in patients who have depression.
Establish a support system, whether it’s your family, close friend or life partner, and include them in your treatment plan. Do include your ‘number one supporter’ in your diet or nutrition counselling sessions in order to avoid any conflict or feelings of rejection. After all, it’s in everybody’s best interest if you become a healthier, better you, right?
Who to turn to
Contact the Malaysian Mental Health Association (www.facebook.com/MMHAOfficial/) who can guide you towards steps to take to preserve your mental health while battling an eating disorder.
The Wave Clinic (thewaveclinic.com/) is a rehab centre in Kuala Lumpur with facilities which could help treat eating disorders.