Eating disorders are characterised by a persistent disturbance of eating that results in altered consumption or absorption of food which significantly impairs physical health or psychosocial functioning.
Anorexia Nervosa and other restrictive eating harms the body through intentional starvation. While, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorders, and other compulsive eating disorders will harm the body in an excess intake of food or a depletion of necessary nutritional intake per meal. In general, excessive food obsessions and ruminations will make food the sole preoccupation of life. Thus, eating disorders destroy relationships with others and removes one from living a wonderful life.
There are three commonly known eating disorders:
■ Binge Eating Disorder (BED): Eating excessively more than the required amount without any control is called a Binge Eating Disorder (BED). It is characterised by excessive eating of large amount of comfort food that contains little nutritional value. It is not followed by the need to purge. Extreme and sudden weight gain can be a result of such behaviours.
■ Bulimia Nervosa (BN): If your family member is someone who eats as much as a binge eater but compensates for it by involving themselves in purging behaviours such as vomiting after heavy meals or over-exercising, he/she is suffering from Bulimia Nervosa. It's characterised by a continuous cycle of bingeing and then purging.
■ Anorexia Nervosa (AN): Not eating at all in-spite of being under-weight is a sign of Anorexia Nervosa. This is intentional starvation as a result of body image issues.
Why does my loved one have an eating disorder?
All our brains rely on a delicate balance of chemicals. Dopamine is a chemical which has the power to make us feel euphoric for taking firm action to survive. We receive this reward in our brain for different needs – Food (Nourishment), Sex (Reproduction), Exercise, etc. Hence, we are programmed to eat and reproduce because of this neurochemistry. Dopamine is important for the continuation of our species.
The brain does not distinguish between what is healthy eating from disordered eating. Thus, it will excrete dopamine even for harmful activities such as eating disorders. For the average person, the dopamine aids in the enjoyment of food that is balanced and nutritional. But, It makes your loved one's eating patterns, as harmful as they are, a part of his/her nature.
It is impossible to get people to stop their disordered eating through personal willpower alone. It is because this is a disease of the brain, which is beyond the control of your loved one's ability to choose.
Eating disorders usually contain elements of other mental disorders such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, etc. This, in turn, is a result of several underlying issues that your loved one is facing, which you may not be aware of. For example - if your daughter is obese as a result of genetics, and was made fun of during her childhood, she would start harming herself by not eating at all as a means to lose weight. Over time, the brain would've recognised that to be a survival mechanism, and excrete dopamine to sustain it in the long run.
Those that suffer from Anorexia or Bulimia are at a greater risk of anxiety and depression; increasing the risk of self-harm and suicidal behaviors. Alcohol and drug abuse are also commonly found in patients suffering from anorexia.
A common physical effect of binge eating is weight gain, which can lead to obesity. Your loved one could be highly ashamed of how they look, which affects their mental health, making them antisocial and depressed. This can put them at risk of a number of related health problems, some of which can be life-threatening.
■ High cholesterol and high blood pressure – which increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as coronary heart disease and stroke.
■ Diabetes – a long-term condition that causes your blood sugar level to become too high.
■ Osteoarthritis – a condition that causes pain and swelling in the joints.
■ Cancer – such as breast and bowel cancer.
Abuse of laxatives in bulimic patients can result in:
■ Severe dehydration, which may cause tremors, weakness, blurry vision, fainting, kidney damage and, in extreme cases, death. Dehydration often requires medical treatment.
■ Laxative dependency occurs when the colon stops reacting to usual doses of laxatives so that larger amounts of laxatives may be needed to produce bowel movements.
■ Internal organ damage including colon infection, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and, rarely, liver damage. Chronic laxative abuse may contribute to risk of colon cancer.
There are only three places where an eating disordered person will end up should he/she be unable to stop: jails (due to mismanaged behaviour as a result of the eating disorder: this could be in the form of food theft or assault on others), death (due to starvation, dehydration, cardiac arrest, diabetes, and cancer, to name a few), and institutions. A rehab (an institution) would be the best option as it is part of the process of getting better.
What can I do?
An eating disordered individual, being a dopamine addict, can be at different stages. In order to intervene, we need to understand where the person is in their addictive journey. An addict will always be in a particular stage of change. Knowing where they are gives us an opportunity to intervene correctly.
● Pre-Contemplation - I am not an addict - Most difficult to help this person.
● Contemplation - I might be an addict - The door is open for help.
● Preparation - I am an addict and I want to stop - Provide the help that is needed.
● Action - I am going to stop now - Need of a supportive and clinical environment.
● Maintenance - I am going to stay stopped - constant motivation and encouragement.
Mostly, if you have come searching for help and not your loved one who is suffering, they are in denial of their problem. You must be wondering how you would convince your loved one to come to us. At Solace Sabah, we can perform what we call an intervention. Professionals are trained to use motivational interviewing, giving the eating disordered person the ability to reason their behaviours themselves, and prepare for treatment and recovery.
We have a team of professional and caring therapists who are able to use various talk therapies to dig into the issues and beliefs that are at the core of the eating disorder. Only once those issues are addressed, can your loved one be able to experience the relief of recovery. But, to do that, a period of abstinence from the eating disorder is required. This is because, this behaviour has suppressed these issues. Moreover, we teach your loved one the meaning of life beyond an obsession for food and eating behaviours. They will experience serenity, peace, and a love of life worth the living.