Eating disorders cause disruption or disturbances in eating patterns and related thoughts and behaviours, causing distress to one’s mental and physical health. They are serious but treatable physical and mental illnesses that can impact people irrespective of their gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, body shape, and weight. While the causes of eating disorders are not fully clear, the growing consensus is that they consist of a range of psychological, biological and sociocultural factors. To have an eating disorder is not a conscious choice or something one can decide to start or stop doing.
While suffering from an eating disorder, they themselves often do not understand or see the severity of it. Sometimes they don’t have the awareness or understanding of the subject; sometimes they feel shame or guilt attached to talking about it, which makes it harder for them to seek help. However, early intervention and treatment accelerates recovery, reduces symptoms and improves the likelihood of staying free of the eating disorder.
Mental health diagnoses are evolving, but they don’t always encompass every person’s feelings accurately. However, they are helpful in understanding the nature of distress; the diagnoses can be used as benchmarks to provide evidence based effective treatment.
If your relationship with food or body image feels stressful to you regardless of whether you fit into any diagnostic criteria or not, you deserve to get support and help. Research shows that many people with subclinical eating disorders will go on to develop full eating disorders, and so, early intervention can be helpful.
Eating disorders recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a manual used to diagnose psychiatric disorders by mental health practitioners, include the following disorders. All explanations below are in line with the diagnostic criteria of DSM V.
Rumination Disorder consists of repeated regurgitation of food for a period of least one month. This includes re-chewing, re-swallowing or spitting out food.
Pica involves eating materials that have negligible nutritional value over a time period of at least 1 month. Someone struggling with pica might eat items like ice, clay, soil or paper.
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is an eating disturbance that keeps people from meeting their nutritional needs. People dealing with ARFID may experience noticeable weight loss, dependence on nutritional supplements, impact on their psychosocial functioning or nutritional deficiencies.