Down the Rabbit Hole
Shedding Light on the Mystery of Eating Disorders
In a society obsessed with diets, body image, and popularity, eating disorders seem to provide an answer to some people’s feelings of depression and low self-esteem. Unfortunately, though, eating disorders are a mystery that may not have a happy ending. Much like Alice as she begins her journey, once you begin the path down the rabbit hole of an eating disorder, it is difficult to come out on the other side, no matter how young or old you are.
Eating disorders affect approximately 11 million American men, women, boys, and girls. They are the third most common disorder among adolescents and have the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders.
We define eating disorders as emotional, psychological, biological and socially influenced attitudes surrounding food and weight that affect a person’s ability to maintain a healthy body weight and lead a productive life. Eating disorders also have severe medical and emotional consequences that may include death in extreme cases.
UNEARTHING A FEW COMMON DIAGNOSES
Causes of eating disorders are not known, but research has shown that they are highly individualized. Genetics, social environment, and psychological factors all combine to create a power struggle between the mind, body and heart, causing them to tumble down a path that is not healthy. Qualified mental health professionals help patients see the dark place where they feel they are in, which helps them to access and dissect the emotional issues that may have led to their eating disorder.
Over the years, the diagnoses for eating disorders have evolved and have begun to be commonly diagnosed and recognized:
ANOREXIA: The most socially recognizable eating disorder: Patients will starve themselves and have an intense fear of gaining weight. Medical complications, such as dry skin, hair loss, reduced bone density, kidney failure and low heart rates, are common complications associated with anorexia.
BULIMIA NERVOSA: Bulimia is mostly known as a disorder that causes a person to eat uncontrollably and then purges, which can take many different forms including vomiting, laxative abuse, diet pill abuse and over-exercising. Medical consequences include electrolyte imbalances that can lead to a heart attack, tooth decay, swelling and rupturing in the esophagus and ulcers.
BINGE EATING DISORDER (BED): BED is characterized by unrestricted eating of unusual amounts of food without any compensatory behavior. This does not mean regular overeating, which we all take part in occasionally. This is a chronic, repetitive activity that often leads to diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
There are several variations beyond of these primary eating disorders, among them are night eating disorder that causes a person to eat at night without conscious awareness; diabulimia which affects diabetics in that the person interferes with insulin intake in order to promote weight loss; and orthorexia that causes a person to refuse to eat anything arbitrarily deemed “unhealthy.” In each of these cases, regardless of the diagnosis, these diseases are insidious and life-threatening,
DIGGING A WAY OUT
Eating disorder patients obtained the best results when they remained connected to a team that can work together to help heal the person. A typical team may include a medical doctor, nutritionist, mental health professional and, when indicated, a psychiatrist, all of which are professionals who specialize in the treatment of eating disorders. This team works closely with the patient, and often their family members, to support the individual in treatment.
If you suspect that someone has an eating disorder, find a quiet place where you can speak together and ask if the person needs help. Like Alice when she went down the rabbit hole, patients who have eating disorders need some guidance in finding the way out of the darkness to move toward a life that is healthy and happy.
Notice if your family member, friend, co-worker, or loved one begins to isolate themselves?
Do they seem out of control around food?
Do they go to the bathroom right after they eat?
Do they have any weird behaviors around food?
Are they losing or gaining weight rapidly?
Are their cheeks swollen, teeth discolored?
Are they obsessively speaking of thinness?
By Angelica M. Gonzalez, LMHC