Food. At the most basic level, it’s necessary for human survival. It fuels our bodies, providing the energy and nutrients it needs for the healthy functioning of our organs and all bodily processes. It also plays an integral part in our general health and wellness. A poor quality diet or one that is lacking in certain vitamins or minerals can result in stunted growth, a weakened immune system, impaired function, and even organ failure.
Although food can be viewed strictly as a physical need, for most people, it’s really not that simple. That’s because, for most humans, food also holds a psychological and emotional connection. On a positive level, that connection gives us feelings of pleasure and gratification when food interacts with our senses through desirable tastes, smells, and textures. However, for some, food is part of a more complicated relationship that can involve dangerous behaviors, negative body image, depression, and addiction.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created additional challenges. It’s been an emotional trigger causing some people to turn to food as a coping mechanism. For others who were already dealing with an eating disorder before the pandemic, the added tension caused by our current state of affairs, plus increased isolation, has made it difficult for many to find the motivation and support they need to make lasting changes.
In today’s post from Blair Wellness Group of Beverly Hills, we want to discuss the many forms of eating disorders and how you can determine if you may have one. It’s important to understand that an unhealthy relationship with food can develop into a very serious and life-threatening addiction, comparable in severity to any other form of addiction, including drugs and alcohol. If you or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder, we hope this blog will help to provide some valuable information and resources for making positive changes.
Types of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions. Despite what some may think, they are not voluntary or a lifestyle choice. They are complex disorders thought to be influenced by multiple factors such as genetics, negative body image, irregular hormone function, trauma, and stress.
There are several types of eating disorders and they all have one thing in common — an obsession with food and/or body shape. The following explores the signs and symptoms of the three most common disorders: anorexia, bulimia, and food addiction.
Anorexia is an eating disorder that tends to affect more women than men and it often manifests during adolescence. Peer pressure and poor self-esteem often contribute to an obsessive fear of gaining weight and an unrealistic perception of body image. People suffering from anorexia are consumed by their desire to lose weight, even if they are already dangerously underweight.
Some common symptoms or behavior patterns of anorexia may include:
- Distorted perception of body image
- Abnormal eating patterns
- Chronic dieting or fasting despite being underweight
- Excessive exercising
- Obsession with counting calories
- Avoidance of social functions
Similar to anorexia, bulimia often develops during adolescence and it tends to affect women disproportionately. It’s known as a binge eating disorder and is often characterized by repeatedly eating large quantities of food followed by an attempt to compensate for what has just been ingested through habits like forced vomiting or use of laxatives. Because those suffering from bulimia partake in these destructive behaviors, they can experience additional injuries and health problems such as swollen salivary glands, worn tooth enamel, acid reflux, and heart complications due to an electrolyte imbalance.
Some common symptoms and behaviors often associated with bulimia include:
- Consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time
- Obsession with maintaining a particular weight
- Purging (forced vomiting) after eating
- Using enemas, diuretics, or laxatives to avoid gaining weight from calories consumed
- Feelings of shame or guilt
The most common form of eating disorder in America is food addiction. Also known as food dependency, people who struggle with this disease are often inaccurately labeled as having a lack of willpower — as if they could just simply choose not to eat as much. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. In fact, when someone becomes addicted to a particular food, chemical reactions activate the brain’s reward center, flooding the system with feelings of pleasure and happiness. This perpetuates the behavior, similarly to how someone addicted to drugs or alcohol is in continuous search for their next fix.
Some signs and symptoms of food addiction include:
- Being obsessed with eating
- Frequent gorging or loss of control over the amount eaten
- Eating to the point of feeling ill or in pain
- Eating in secret
- Continuing to eat even though you are no longer hungry
- Digestive problems
- Feelings of guilt and depression
COVID-19 and Eating Disorders
Traumatic events such as the current COVID-19 pandemic have a tremendous impact on people’s mental health. Fear of sickness, death, loss of employment, and other devastating unknowns are difficult for anyone to cope with, but the added stress of social isolation can make it even worse.
People who are spending most of their time at home may find it all too easy to reach for the refrigerator to soothe their anxiety and boredom, while those who already had a problematic relationship with food may find it even more difficult to break from their addiction during these trying times.
Although we are still facing many uncertainties, it’s possible to feel better and gain a more positive outlook by regaining control of your life and developing a healthy connection with the food you eat. However, overcoming an eating disorder isn’t just about finding your willpower — to truly achieve lasting freedom it’s necessary to get help from a licensed psychologist trained on how to help people overcome their addictions.
Contact Blair Wellness Group
Dr. Cassiday Blair is a licensed eating disorder psychologist in Beverly Hills dedicated to helping men and women of all ages overcome addiction. Our concierge-style of treatment allows our patients to receive the treatment they need when they need it while maintaining respect for their privacy and without having to rely on insurance.
As an added precaution for your safety, we are also offering teletherapy services. This allows patients to still receive the high level of care they’ve come to expect from us without having to make a trip to our clinic.
Do you have questions about Blair Wellness Group or want to learn more about how we may be able to help you? Please give us a call at 310-999-4996, or request an appointment through our website at blairwellnessgroup.com today.