Does the following scenario sound familiar? If so, you may have signs of an eating disorder:You’re finally home after a rough day and want to relieve stress. You find yourself at the refrigerator and the pantry, pulling items out, and planning an evening of watching television while enjoying all of your favorite foods. An hour or so later, you feel physically (and emotionally) sick. How could you have eaten that much food in an hour?
You’ve overeaten again and now you are feeling desperate. What can you do to negate the effects of this bad choice? You decide to purge the food. Maybe you force yourself to vomit up as much as you can. Maybe you decide to take laxatives. Perhaps hitting the gym for two hours on the treadmill is more your speed.
Trying to control your eating habits can get out of hand, especially if you are beginning to see a pattern of going long periods of time without food to bingeing and/or purging. There is help, but first, we need to identify whether or not the behavior is any indication of an eating disorder.
Most Common Eating Disorders
Patients suffering from anorexia nervosa obsess over body image and gaining weight. These individuals will over-exercise and/or starve themselves for long periods of time to try to control their weight. The fear they feel with gaining weight or becoming obese is real.
Some patients also develop a body image disorder at the same time in which they always see themselves as much larger than they really are.
Although the majority of anorexic patients are women, men are also susceptible to the condition, especially in today’s culture of filtered social media images.
A few of the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa are:
- Extreme weight loss and underweight
- Lower body fat percentage than what it is healthy
- Weakness and fatigue
- Ability to see the person’s skeletal structure due to muscle loss
- Low blood pressure and slower heart rate
- Brittle nails, dry hair, and/or the loss of hair
- Declining mental health
A physician is required for anorexia treatment to ensure the person regains weight in a healthy and natural way. You may need to work with a nutritionist to develop a new and sustainable lifestyle diet.
If you or a loved one needs anorexia nervosa treatment, the doctor may refer you to a psychotherapist to work through the physical and mental roadblocks hindering your anorexia recovery. This may include counseling sessions alone or with a group, cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy, and/or medications.
Binge Eating DisorderMany people accidentally overeat on certain occasions. Holidays (and game days) are typical celebrations where people may go overboard on their food intake. However, some individuals develop an overeating disorder.
Similar to overeating, people who binge eat consume more food than what their bodies can expend in energy. However, unlike an overeating episode, binge eaters continue overeating in a pattern. They may binge several times a week and feel disgusted with themselves afterward.
Vomiting and other purging methods are not used with Binge Eating Disorder (BED). The person feels shame and guilt after an episode, but they do not feel as if they have any control over the situation. They may promise themselves that this was the last time and they do mean it at that moment. However, the impulse to eat comes on quickly and drives them to overeat.
Symptoms and signs of Binge Eating Disorder include:
- Uncontrollable binge eating that occurs at least once a week for a few months
- Feelings of shame, disgust, and desperation after a binge eating episode
- Eating in secret so others will not judge
- Scheduling bingeing times such as late at night after everyone is asleep
- Hiding food in certain locations like a drawer or behind other things in a cabinet
- Feeling insecure about eating in public
- Trying several fad diets or cuts out one food group from their diet completely
- Experiencing body weight fluctuations
Frequent bouts of compulsive eating after following a fad diet or denying yourself certain food groups can lead to illness. Gastrointestinal issues such as acid reflux, heartburn, and severe constipation are common in binge eating patients. Some people also experience insulin resistance or develop Type II Diabetes from overworking their pancreas.
The allure of binge eating has to do with the feelings of happiness during a binge. During a binge, the brain releases dopamine, a hormone that makes us feel euphoric. We tend to binge eat after a stressful day or event because it mimics feelings of reward. Unfortunately, these happy feelings only last during the binge and dissipate shortly after, leaving us feeling embarrassed and desperate.
Binge eating treatment can include a combination of treatment methods including cognitive therapy, counseling (either in a one-on-one format or with a group), behavioral therapy (to help reframe your routines and mindset), and/or medications.
If you need to lose weight, your physician may recommend a supervised weight-loss method to ensure you are healing from BED and not focused solely on dieting.
Individuals who binge eat on a frequent basis but find ways to purge their bodies of the food may develop bulimia. Bulimics also feel the uncontrollable need to binge. However, they also feel the uncontrollable urge to purge or rid their body of the excessive food. The patient may feel like they can control their behavior (and their weight) with this method.
Purging methods include vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, and enemas. Although there are people who resort to non-purging and burning calories in a different manner with over-exercise or long fasts.
Signs and symptoms of bulimia:
- Extreme weight fluctuations
- Making trips to the bathroom after eating
- Hyper-focus on body image
- Over-exercising, especially after a large feast
- Bloodshot eyes and/or corroded teeth from excessive vomiting
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Severe dehydration
Just like with anorexia and other eating disorders, bulimia, if left untreated, can lead to death. A physician may order a treatment that includes various counseling sessions, dietary education, support groups, medication, and psychotherapy.
Our response to stress and high emotions (or trauma) may be at the root of our eating patterns. If you feel the sudden urge to snack on something while you are working or in a stressful situation, you are not alone. Emotional eating is one of the most common eating disorders.
You exhibit stress eating when you find yourself snacking on candy while typing at your computer or mindlessly picking at your child’s crackers while you wait in traffic. Your brain is looking for the feeling of satisfaction and comfort during stress, and food temporarily provides the sensation.
If you tend to have frequent emotional eating episodes, consider speaking to a counselor to learn new ways to manage your stress. They might recommend that you change your routine, exercise, journal, pray and get more sleep. Counseling sessions with family may help to shoulder the burden of responsibility on others if you feel overwhelmed.
Filling your Mind and Heart with Everlasting Food
Whether you have an overeating disorder or are showing signs of anorexia and bulimia, you are searching for a feeling. You are possibly trying to control something (your physical body) by filling up a need, a longing. Sometimes we don’t realize that it is not our stomach that needs filling, but our minds and our hearts.
As you seek medical treatment for an eating disorder, consider working with a Christian counselor to help you discover the missing piece that treatment alone will not be able to completely fill. Lean on God to fill your heart with an everlasting food and allow your body to heal.
“Green Leaves”, Courtesy of Goutham Krishna, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Water Droplet on Leaf”, Courtesy of Aaron Burden, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Drop and Ripples”, Courtesy of Jimmy Chang, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Splash”, Courtesy of Alex Perez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License