Understanding Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders Awareness Week this year will be from 28 February to 6 March 2022 and is celebrated yearly to raise awareness on the issues and complications people with eating disorders face on a daily basis. 

Eating disorders are mental and health issues that although are prevalent and experienced by many people, are still not acknowledged as much, or understood.

Eating disorders are complex psychiatric disorders that can affect anyone irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity and background.

An eating disorder is a broad term and under it, come different types of disorders that people go through.

As mentioned by Lina Shibib, Clinical Nutritionist, Medcare Hospital Al Safa, there are six types of eating disorders namely,

  1. Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia is a mental condition through which an individual restricts their food intake and in turn can end up severely underweight.
  2. Bulimia Nervosa: People that have bulimia go through cycles of eating excessive amounts of food and then trying to make up for it, end up throwing up or exercising constantly.
  3. Binge Eating Disorder: Individuals that experience this, have no control over themselves and can end up eating excessive amounts and it can be extremely distressing for the person.
  4. Pica: A feeding condition in which a person tends to eat things that do not have nutrition like paper soap, chalk, etc and it can affect children, pregnant women and people of determination.
  5. Rumination Disorder: This happens when the food that has been partially digested comes back and is then consumed again.
  6. Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): People with ARFID have different eating habits which are affected by their dislike towards certain colours, smell, taste, texture and temperature and lead to lack of eating.

If you feel a person close to you could possibly have an eating disorder, Lina Doumani, Nutritionist at Medcare Camali Mental Health Clinic mentioned that some of the noticeable changes are:

  • Significant weight loss or constant change in weight
  • Intolerant to the cold
  • Weakness, fatigue or lethargy
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Sudden change in eating patterns like trying a new diet, cutting certain food groups, only eating healthy food or uncontrolled binge eating
  • Socially withdrawn or isolated
  • Issues with body image or want to excessively diet
  • Change in exercise patterns by compulsively training or going through extreme physical training
  • Abdominal issues to avoid eating
  • Depressive, anxious, obsessive, compulsive symptoms and behaviours
  • Low mood and lack of interest in going to places that serve food

As mentioned by Dr Ioannis Delipalas, Psychiatrist and Medical Director at Thrive Wellbeing Centre, when a person is going through an eating disorder, the best way to help them is by being supportive.

As it is an issue they cannot control, being judgemental and making comments on weight and food can make them feel more isolated.

It is key to be gentle and express your concern for the person and urge them to get professional help.

With the help of medical professionals, the person can receive an assessment as well as the help required to understand what they are experiencing.

Early intervention with eating disorders can help a person recover as, over time, eating disorders affect a person's mental health as well as their physical health when severe and can be life-threatening.

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