Even if you have never struggled with an eating disorder yourself, it’s likely you know someone who has. Eating disorders can effect both men and women at any age, and include anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, to name the most prominent. Categorized as a mental illness, eating disorders occur when one has an unhealthy relationship with food. Though eating disorders can often stem from poor body image and cultural pressures, they can also be the result of an unresolved trauma. A recent estimate stated that 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives, with only about 10 percent going on to seek treatment. Despite the widespread information available, eating disorders continue to remain a source of social stigmatization and pop culture glamorization.
So what are the signs and side effects of the three major eating disorders? Anorexia nervosa (commonly shortened to ‘anorexia’) is a cycle of self-starvation, when one denies their body the essential nutrients it needs to function. Extreme weight loss is the most immediately detectable sign, with additional side effects including:
- Slowed heart rate and blood pressure to conserve energy, with the risk of heart failure greatly increased
- Bone density reduction,(also known as osteoporosis), which results in brittle, easily broken bones
- Muscle loss
- Extreme dehydration, with the risk of kidney failure
- Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness of the body
- Hair loss
- Lanugo, a responsive occurrence in which the body grows hair all over, including the face, to stay warm
Research has shown that anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, with females between the age of fifteen and twenty-four at the highest risk.
Bulimia refers to the recurring binge-and-purge cycle of consuming regular or oversized meals, followed by induced vomiting and in some cases bowel movements. Bulimia can affect the overall digestive system, with major organ functions impaired by electrolyte and chemical imbalances due to dehydration and loss of potassium. Further side effects include:
- Irregular heart rate and possible failure
- Potential gastric rupturing during binge periods
- Inflammation and potential rupturing of the esophagus from frequent vomiting
- Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids brought up through vomiting
- Laxative abuse related constipation and disruption of regular bowel movements
- Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis.
Binge eating refers to the consumption of large amounts of food in a short, abrupt period of time, sometimes even a few minutes. Many of the health risks and side effects of binge eating mirror those of clinical obesity, including:
- Increased weight gain
- High blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Elevated triglyceride levels, which can result in heart disease
- Type II diabetes
- Gallbladder disease
As stated above, eating disorders commonly occur with or as a result of a separate psychiatric disorder, which often complicates diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, eating disorders can be genetic or a consequence of psychological issues such as coping mechanisms, control issues, trauma response, family problems, or social pressure. Ultimately it’s extremely important to address each case as a unique one, with careful attention paid to surrounding details and personal history.
The online world is complex and somewhat convoluted where eating disorders are concerned. While there are many blogs and articles dedicated to treatment and support, there are an equal number of sites devoted to glamorizing or ridiculing eating disorders. Fortunately these six websites and blogs have garnered worldwide praise for their research, relatability, and overall design layout, and are ideal for those seeking help and information on eating disorders:
1. NEDA Blog (https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog)
NEDA Blog is comprised of news and commentaries on eating disorders, focusing mainly on stories of eating disorders that make the headlines, such as newly released scientific papers and legislative updates. The blog further spotlights personal success stories of National Eating Disorders Association campaigns, offering a refreshing mix of practical facts and optimism.
2. Adios Barbie (https://www.adiosbarbie.com/)
This savvy and beautifully curated blog boldly addresses the unrealistic norms society places on the genders, with contributing writers sharing their experiences of recovery, support, and empowerment. Body positive articles abound on Adios Barbie, with guest bloggers lending a strong and much-needed voice to the realities of coping with an eating disorder.
3. Mirasol (https://www.mirasol.net/)
Mirasol is the residential blog of an eating disorder treatment center, which keeps up-to-date reviews of the latest scientific research, treatments, personal insights, and news from in-house facility experts. The center’s staff write the majority of the articles, and the professional reflections they lend are invaluable.
4. Does Every Woman Have An Eating Disorder? (https://everywomanhasaneatingdisorder.blogspot.com/)
Written by clinical psychologist Dr. Stacey Rosenfeld, Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? applies over fifteen years of working with those who have eating disorders. Rosenfeld focuses on the relationship many women have with their bodies via food, and contends that the way we categorize eating disorders can be reductive to the individual and thus hinder more progressive treatments. Her blog features personal stories from eating disorder survivors as well as professionals in the field, and further explores the role our media plays in shaping women’s expectations for their bodies.
5. Eating Disorder Hope (https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog)
Eating Disorder Hope offers the latest and most concise information about eating disorders and the various methods of therapy available. It also addresses outside factors that play a part, such as personal relationships and family history. The site is exceptional in its inclusiveness of all ages and lifestyles, such as parents grappling with eating disorders while trying to raise their children with healthy food values.
Along with the above blogs and websites, Eating Disorders Blogs (https://eatingdisordersblogs.com/)offers a one-stop resource guide by compiling and updating reputable eating disorder blogs. Professionals, caretakers, and those dealing with an eating disorder will find a comprehensive listing of blogs written by survivors as well as researchers and practitioners.
Eating disorders are complicated and often devastating conditions that affect one’s health, well-being, and relationships, with potentially life-threatening consequences. People struggling with an eating disorder require professional help, as well as the support of friends and family, with early treatment providing the greatest likelihood of success. Many who suffer from eating disorders do not seek help, with the widespread attitude of body dissatisfaction commonly accepted as the “norm.” Dieting fads and rigorous exercise regimens also aid in creating near-impossible lifestyle standards.
The most effective and long-lasting method for treating an eating disorder is a combination of psychotherapy and nutritional guidance counseling, with the general belief being that treatment should be based on the individual and his or her specific needs and situation. Furthermore, treatment should address the symptoms of the disorder, along with the medical, psychological, and social consequences, and also take into account the interpersonal and cultural influences surrounding the individual’s case.
Many people who struggle with eating disorders respond positively to outpatient therapy, as well as individual, group, or family support sessions. Nutrition counseling and psychiatric medications administered professionally have also been proven effective for many individuals.
In more severe, life-threatening eating disorder cases inpatient care, such as hospitalization and residential care within a specialty unit or facility, is necessary. Inpatient treatment generally requires a follow-up outpatient period, with routine counseling sessions and check-ups to address constant underlying causes, as well as solutions to overcoming them.
While it is important for individuals struggling with eating disorders to seek out professional assistance and adequate healthcare, it can also be beneficial to refer to trustworthy guides and websites such as HealthStatus (https://www.healthstatus.com/calculators/) for accurate fitness and health calculators that help keep them on track and feeling good about the positive improvements they’re making with their bodies.
Eating disorders are not a one-size-fits-all matter, but entirely dependent on an individual’s needs, history, and environment. In this day and age it’s easy to be swayed by popular depictions of an eating disorder’s superficial benefits, with the entertainment and fashion industries frequently promoting unhealthy (and frankly unobtainable) standards of beauty. By striving to maintain a healthy lifestyle and moderation-based goals, along with the help of recommended blogs and first-person success stories, men and women of all ages can feel their best from within and out.