As the mental illness with the highest mortality rate, anorexia nervosa is very dangerous and can have lasting adverse effects on health. In addition to cardiac issues, gastrointestinal disturbances, problems with hair and skin, and loss of menses, anorexia can lead to significant bone loss (osteoporosis). There are several factors that contribute to the development of osteoporosis in people with anorexia. Learning about how this condition develops and how it can be managed is key to lasting bone health.
Nutrition Essential Component for Healing
A key component to eating disorder treatment is developing and monitoring a nutrition plan. Nutritional deficiencies are common in people with eating disorders. Lack of nutrients from food restriction and electrolyte imbalances from purging and dehydration are serious complications that can be life-threatening if not remedied. A registered dietitian (RD) is an essential member of the treatment team and is responsible for guiding patients and their families through the weight and nutrition restoration process.
A New Study Highlights the Role Habit Plays in Anorexia
Anorexia is a notoriously difficult illness to treat, with sufferers considered to have extraordinary willpower to control their need for food. Recently, a new study has been published suggesting that anorexia may be a habitual behavior sparked by brain functions that originate in the dorsal striatum.
This new study, published in Nature Neuroscience, found that the dorsal striatum, an area of the brain that is a major player in decision-making and habit learning, showed increased activity when participants were asked to make food choices. According to the Washington Post, this is the same area of the brain found in previous studies to play a part in drug addiction.
The ratio of female to male eating disorders suggest that women and girls are more affected than men: according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), the female to male ratio for anorexia is 10:1; for bulimia, 10:1; and 2:1 for binge eating disorder. Although eating disorders in females and males are clinically similar, it is feared that the true statistics related to males are not fully known due to underreporting of symptoms and stigma.
What is Causing the Growing Epidemic of Disordered Eating
Clinical eating disorders have clear indications and criteria for diagnosis. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and eating disorder not otherwise specified (ED-NOS) are all represented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-V (DSM-V) and have strict parameters for diagnosis. Not so easy to spot are those eating habits that, although they may not fit the definition of an eating disorder, have troubling consequences for a person’s physical and emotional health. These eating behaviors fall into a category termed disordered eating, and they are far more prevalent than we may have realized.
What Does Healthy Look Like?
I think it is fair to say that those who struggle with some type of eating disorder have a really hard time with knowing what a healthy lifestyle and diet is. I know this because I once lived a life with anorexia and bulimia for ten years and knew what I was doing to my body was wrong and hurting it, but at moments I didn’t really care. I didn’t know a life without restricting, binging, and purging, so healthy is a word that I never thought I would live nor understand.
Eating disorders in men are on the rise. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, an estimated 10-15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that 1/3 of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals fasting, and taking laxatives.
A new study from the University of Montreal researched the similarities between male and female anorexia in order to improve awareness of the disorder as it presents in males. The study found that behavioral symptoms are similar between males and females, but that male symptoms in particular seem to be related to personality, gender identification, and sexual orientation. The study also found, according to Nauert (2014), that although males and females seem to share the same fears about weight gain, body image dissatisfaction for males was more connected to muscle mass. For males, excessive exercise was more common that other rituals such as restricting food and vomiting.
Nauert further reports that the rate of homosexuality among study participants was higher than the general population, leading researchers to hypothesize that anorexia may delay the processing of questioning sexual orientation and restrictive food behaviors may delay sexual maturation.
Further research must be done to fully understand anorexia in males and the special issues that create anxiety and stress in the male population. To support men who are struggling with eating disorders, some treatment centers, Center for Discovery among them, have committed to providing treatment options and programming for males who are suffering from an eating disorder.
Nauert, R. (2014). Study probes anorexia in males. PsychCentral, retrieved from www.psychcentral.com
National Eating Disorders Association: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders: www.anad.org
The Link Between Disordered Eating and Athletics
Athletes are often glorified for their ability to transform their bodies. However, what cost do these athletes pay? Disordered eating may be one costly and dangerous step these athletes take to achieve their fitness and athletic goals.
The National Eating Disorders Collaboration offers the following definition for disordered eating, “Disordered eating is when a person regularly engages in destructive eating behaviours such as restrictive dieting, compulsive eating or skipping meals. Disordered eating can include behaviours which reflect many but not all of the symptoms of eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS).”
College and Eating Disorders
For many teenagers, college serves as an opportunity for many firsts. The college experience is often the first time students live without their families and a concrete set of rules. Unfortunately, dealing with an eating disorder is among these firsts for many college students.
Debunking Misconceptions About Eating Disorders
Because eating disorders are complex and often misunderstood, there are several misconceptions about eating disorders and eating disorder behavior. These misconceptions include: people with eating disorders do not eat anything, you must be a certain size to have an eating disorder, and eating disorders cannot be fatal. A popular and incorrect notion about eating disorders is that people with eating disorders do not eat anything.