Those that battle with the harsh reality of an eating disorder are also faced with an additional fear of judgment and stress. All of those fears are surrounded by the serious and dangerous stigma of eating disorders. The question is, do you know anyone with signs of disordered eating?
The American Psychiatric Association defines an eating disorder as an illness “in which the people experience severe disturbances in their eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions.” The three most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.
Those with anorexia nervosa tend to severely restrict their food intake, leading to a significantly low body weight. Other signs and symptoms include fear of gaining weight, excessive exercise (even when ill or injured), and a disturbed perception of their body weight and shape.
Bulimia nervosa is better described as almost a never-ending cycle of binge eating, followed by compensatory behaviors that include vomiting or taking laxatives to undo the effects of the binge. Along with anorexia nervosa, symptoms involve eating large amounts of food followed by a sense of loss of control, regular purging behavior, or the recurrent use of compensatory behaviors to prevent weight gain, People with bulimia nervosa may fall into the normal or overweight BMI range.
Binge eating disorder is defined as binge eating but without the use of inappropriate compensatory weight control behaviors. Symptoms include a large intake of food accompanied by a sense of loss of control over eating behavior, binge-eating episodes are more rapid than usual, eating until feeling comfortably full, eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much you are eating, or feeling guilty and depressed after a binge episode.
While most people are familiar with the eating disorders listed above, a more significant percentage of people who exhibit concerning symptoms do not meet the full criteria for diagnosis with an eating disorder. Signs such as significant fluctuations in weight, frequent dieting or anxiety linked with meals, feeling fatigued or weak, changes in skin and hair or even change in menstrual regularity, are all signs of disordered eating. Disordered eating is designed to be a descriptive phrase, while an eating disorder is a diagnosis.
There is no doubt that nutrition and exercise are linked, and while in the presence of an eating disorder, the relationship between the two can become complicated. Research and clinical practice have provided insights into how exercise, nutrition, and eating disorders interact to create both a beneficial and detrimental outcome.
People with either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa tend to be types of people who are perfectionists that also have low self-esteem and are exceedingly critical of their bodies and themselves as a whole. The key consideration when it comes to changing the functional relationship of exercise in eating disorder patients is differentiating perfectionism versus excellence. Perfection versus excellence is a challenging concept when it comes to patients with eating disorders. Perfection has a negative connotation, while excellence finding positivity in every situation. A good example of perfection would be having a fear of failure, while excellence would be a desire for success.
For more information on eating disorders, visit the National Eating Disorder Association website. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call their confidential helpline at (800) 931-2237.