By: Sanjana Mehra, Contributing Writer
Edited by: Elias Azizi, Editor in Chief
During your daily colleague lunchtime, your eyes shoot across the table where you notice your friend hasn’t eaten much. Infact, your friend hasn’t eaten at all; it is a repeated pattern you’ve identified over the past few weeks. His eyes are lost in the glass of water he swirls aimlessly, blocking himself from the babbling noise. Unknowingly, you bring the matter up amidst the loud chatter and conversation. His attention is suddenly removed from the glass and his eyes spring up. The colour leaves his face as he frantically looks at the eyes on him. “Oh, I’m just not hungry”, he shrugs it off. A few perplexed looks are passed across the table, but no more thought is given. Maybe he really just isn’t hungry. He kindly excuses himself from the table and steps away with an uncomfortable smile on his face. You are oblivious to how he is feeling, so you shrug it off as well.
The generalised term of an eating disorder is a range of psychological disorders that result in unhealthy or interrupted eating habits. They are dangerous due to the importance food and nutrition holds in our lives. Additionally, these disorders are becoming increasingly more common with the global frequency rising from 3.4% to 7.8% between 2000 and 2018, according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2019. While 70 million people are part of the international statistics, many more suffer silently without being diagnosed and recorded. For many, the disorder may be mild. However, it grows to become more consuming and worse for the individual, and it can lead to the development of more related mental health issues (ie. anxiety, depression and body dysmorphia). People tend to inaccurately believe that eating disorders are “just a phase” or a way of getting attention from the people around them. Also, it is wrongfully perceived that only the female population can have them and people with a normal body weight cannot. These common misconceptions are often the reason why many remain undiagnosed and do not receive treatment.
Anorexia - Nervosa :
Normally, the words ‘eating disorder’ lead a trail of thoughts to one of the most common ones, anorexia nervosa. Typically, people suffering from anorexia nervosa have a distorted perception of their body and are in constant need to lose weight or become thinner (despite already being dangerously thin). People may develop obsessions over their weight, their caloric intake, eating in public, and the way their body looks. As mentioned before, body mass index is no longer used as a factor of diagnosis since even despite intense weight loss, individuals may not be categorised as underweight. Anorexia is distinguished by other food restrictions or binge eating. In the restriction type, people tend to heavily control and moderate how much they consume and what they are eating in order to maintain their weight, even if they are already healthy. They may also excessively exercise upon feeling discomfort with how much they have eaten. Individuals that suffer from the binge eating type will typically eat foods in large amounts or even eat very little; after which they will actively attempt to eliminate that food from their body through exercise, vomiting, laxatives, etc. Anorexia in all forms is very damaging to a person's health since it can impact their bone density, vitamin B12 levels, gastrointestinal system, etc. The long term health effects are massive and vary from person to person since their bodies are not receiving the necessary nutrients to function. In many unfortunate cases, this disorder has resulted in organ failure and even death.
Bulimia - Nervosa :
Bulimia is also usually developed in the adolescent years and becomes more impactful with age, like anorexia. Mainly, individuals will indulge in episodes where they will consume food in unusually large quantities. Individuals tend not to have control over the quantity in which they are eating during these time periods. Additionally, they are more likely to consume foods that they normally avoid. Then, to subsite the feeling of gut discomfort, prevent guilt and to manage the calories they have consumed, they may force themselves to vomit, excessively exercise, use laxatives, etc. Unlike anorexia, people with bulimia are likely to maintain a relatively regular body weight, rather than suddenly losing or even gaining weight. Individuals may have an imbalance in necessary nutrients, sore throat and salivary glands, acid reflux, severe dehydration, etc.
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are commonly known eating disorders. A less known one is pica; in which individuals consume what is not considered food or sustenance due to lack of nutritional value. They crave non-food items such as glue, chalk, ice, dirt, paper, hair, etc. It is more commonly a symptom of developmental behavioural neurological disorders such as schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder. Individuals that indulge in consuming non-nutritional items regularly are at an increased risk of poisoning, gut issues and even death (depending on the substance they have consumed).
Eating disorders are more prevalent today than ever. Social media has had a negative influence on young kids, creating the ‘ideal’ body type. Young adolescents, adults and individuals of a variety of ages have begun indulging in unhealthy habits to achieve these unrealistic body standards and compromising their own health in the process. Often, we unintentionally make comments we may not realise are hurting the person in front of us. “You’ve gained weight”, “you should eat less”, “you’re so skinny” are phrases that are very common even between friends. As insignificant as it may appear to one party, it could be equally hurtful or impactful to the other. It is vital that we remember it is rarely ever our place to make judgemental comments on someone's body. Eating disorders can take a long time to recover from and require unconditional support from friends and family. As individuals, it is also our own responsibility to prioritise our physical and mental health by reaching out for help when you need it. A healthy relationship with food is crucial in everyone's lives.
Link to cover image: https://www.verywellmind.com/eating-disorders-overview-4581789