Nearly a year of COVID-19 induced quarantine and sedentary life may have added a few inches and pounds to your waistline, which is to be expected. But could you or a loved one have developed an unhealthy relationship with food?
The last week of February marks “Eating Disorder and Screening Awareness Month,” a time to take a closer look at potentially persistent eating habits that can negatively impact health, emotions and functioning in key areas of life.
Although “food” is in the name, these disorders extend beyond food. They form complex mental illnesses that may require the attention of medical and psychological experts.
People with eating disorders usually focus on weight, body shape, and diet. The most common conditions are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and eating disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic. These include severe restriction of food, leftover food or cleaning behavior such as vomiting or excessive exercise. These behaviors can become dangerous enough to affect the body’s ability to eat adequately, which can ultimately damage the heart, digestive system, bones, teeth, and mouth, and lead to other diseases.
A preventable / restrictive eating disorder, also known as ARFID, is another disease. This leads to people eating too little. It can develop in infancy or early childhood, and even persist into adulthood. People with ARFID have a lack of interest in food or a strong aversion to the look or smell of certain foods, or the temperature or taste of the food. Those with this disorder also avoid eating with others. It’s important to note that this condition is much more severe than just being a picky eater.
While eating disorders can occur at any age, they most often manifest themselves in the adolescent and young adult years. In the United States alone, an estimated 20 million women and 10 million men have or have had an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Experts believe they can be caused by a variety of factors, including cultural ideals, genetics, and personality traits such as neuroticism, perfectionism, and impulsivity.
Surveys show that depression is often a factor too, and a year of COVID-induced quarantine has definitely hit many people. According to the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, up to half of all patients diagnosed with an eating disorder have depression. Binge eating affects 3 percent of adults in the United States, making it the most common ailment. For example, in a 2008 study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 24 percent of bipolar patients met the criteria for eating disorders.
According to the Mayo Clinic, managing or overcoming an eating disorder on your own can be difficult as it can literally take over someone’s life. Be aware of eating habits and beliefs that may indicate unhealthy behavior and peer pressure. Red flags include skipping meals or making excuses not to eat; an overly restrictive vegetarian diet; an excessive focus on healthy eating; preparing individual meals instead of eating what the family eats; Withdrawal from normal social activities; ongoing concerns or complaints about obesity and talk of losing weight; frequent checking in the mirror for perceived errors; repeatedly eating large amounts of sweets or high-fat foods; Use of dietary supplements, laxatives, or herbal products for weight loss; excessive exercise; Eat much more food in one meal or snack than normal; leave the table to use the bathroom; Expressing depression, disgust, shame, or guilt about eating habits; and eat secretly.
Unfortunately, many people struggling with these disorders may not believe they need treatment. If you think you or a loved one may have an eating disorder, talk to a doctor. If a loved one is unwilling to acknowledge an eating disorder, try opening the door by expressing concern and a desire to listen. If you are concerned that your child is having a problem with eating, contact your child’s doctor to discuss your concerns.
Sally Wyatt is the PR coordinator for NorthBay Healthcare.