How to prevent eating disorders

MANILA, Philippines – Did you ever suspect you had an eating disorder because you were much too concerned about your weight and body shape? Or do you know someone who has extreme and unhealthy eating and exercise practices in the quest to attain a perfect body?

Everyone should be aware about eating disorders regardless of culture, economic status, gender and health status to be able to prevent further mental, emotional and physical disturbances.

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa

Individuals with anorexia nervosa have a distorted self-image, where they see themselves as “fat” even though they are extremely thin. They usually starve themselves and exercise excessively until they experience serious illnesses and even death.

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a cycle of binge eating and purging by vomiting, using laxatives and diuretics and excessive exercising to compensate for overeating. These purging activities are usually followed by feelings of relief.

According to a study published in Behavior Modification, body weight, binge eating, compensatory behavior, too much concern with shape and weight, dietary restraint, body image disturbance, affective disturbance are all domains of interest common to those with eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

The weight of anorexics is at least 15 percent below normal for their age and height. Bulimics usually fall under the normal weight category even though they still fear weight gain, but weight usually fluctuates because of the binge-purge cycle.

Binge eating and compensatory behaviors (self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives and diuretics, other medications, fasting and excessive exercise) are more common with bulimics and usually occur on the average of at least twice a week for three months.

The drive for thinness and intense fear of weight gain appear to be common to anorexics and bulimics.

The hallmark of anorexia nervosa is weight loss through caloric restriction. In bulimia nervosa, dietary restraint is usually followed by binge eating caused by physiological and psychological factors.

Studies have shown that body-image concerns such as dissatisfaction with one’s body and inability to accurately gauge body size are important in the development of eating disorders.

Depression remains a common issue in individuals with eating disorders. According to a study published in Behavior Research and Therapy journal, depression does not merely co-occur, but aggravates disorders.

How to help

The best steps you can take to help your friends and family in preventing the occurrence of an eating disorder are as follows:

Refrain from giving your children critical feedback regarding weight and body age especially at an early age.

Studies show that individuals who suffer from eating disorders had experienced pressure and negative feedback regarding their weight since most of them were obese during their childhood. An effective strategy that you can give your child to manage weight is to be a good role model when it comes to healthy eating and having an active lifestyle.

Discourage your children to achieve an unrealistic model-like body.

Unrealistic body types of models in television commercials, magazines and billboards give pressure, especially to teenagers who are more concerned about their weight and body shape. As a parent, as early as now, discuss with your children the importance of achieving a normal body weight by healthy strategies. It would be very helpful to refer them to licensed professionals for nutrition and exercise education so extreme dieting and exercise will be prevented.

Once the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder have been detected, give your loved one constant support by showing her how much you want to help and understand the situation.

The first sign of anorexia nervosa is usually weight loss. It is usually followed by food deprivation, mood swings, intense concern about weight and body shape, and even withdrawal from social gatherings. Bulimics usually take in large amounts of food secretly and is followed by vomiting in the bathroom, excessive exercising or taking of diuretics to lose weight.

Get educated about eating disorders and health complications so you can relay the message to your loved one.

According to the American Dietetic Association, bulimics who engage in frequent vomiting and use of laxatives are at risk of electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, cardiac dysfunction, kidney and gastrointestinal problems, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, which are also all common to anorexics. Female anorexics experience amenorrhea, which is the absence of at least three menstrual cycles, and male anorexics experience loss of sexual interest and potency.

Refer your loved one with an eating disorder to appropriate professionals for treatment.

A comprehensive treatment for eating disorders includes psychotherapy and counseling for self-esteem issues, nutrition education, group therapy through support-group sharing, and sometimes other patients require medications for related anxiety and depression.

source: Philippine Daily Inquirer