You count more than calories: Eating disorders illuminated

KATIA HUCL

eating disorders

Eating disorders are a reality for many Canadians and dealing with these issues comes with education and awareness — especially around the history and terminology associated with such health problems.

In a society where beauty and self-worth are often tied to body weight and physique, it’s hard for many to maintain a positive self-image. This inability to love ourselves is reflected through increased rates of eating disorders and disordered eating across the globe, which is why we need to be aware of them.

Hospitalization rates for eating disorders have increased steadily since the 1950’s, moving towards 18 per cent between 1999 and 2006 alone — and increased by 118 per cent in children in the same time period.

In an American survey, 91 per cent of college-aged women had attempted to control their body weight through dieting which many carry out incorrectly, often leading to the development of an eating disorder. This high percentage is certainly something to consider.

Disordered eating in general is when a person’s attitudes about food, weight and body size lead to very inflexible eating and exercise behaviours.

Some behaviours include obsession with calorie counting, extreme exercising and excessive feelings of failure when things don’t go according to plan. These habits can threaten one’s health, happiness and safety.

Disordered eating may begin as a way to lose a few pounds or get in shape, but for some these behaviors can quickly become obsessive and can even lead to a full blown eating disorder.

The difference between disordered eating and an eating disorder is that the former cannot be classified in and of itself as a specific eating disorder, whereas the latter is indicative of a specific eating disorder like anorexia.

Usually people are most familiar with anorexia and bulimia because they are the most publicized forms of eating disorders in North America — primarily due of the media coverage they receive. However there are many other lesser known forms of eating disorders that affect people.

Eating Disorder Awareness Week takes place in the first full week of February across North America every year, rightfully bringing these issues to the forefront of people’s minds.

This year, the University of Saskatchewan’s awareness campaign is trying to bring attention to four of the lesser-known eating disorders. These disorders are only a subsection of the disorders with rapidly rising rates of diagnosis in college-aged persons, but should not be taken lightly.

Binge eating disorder is classified by frequent episodes of eating large quantities of food in a short period of time. The amount of food eaten in a binge is usually much larger than a normal meal or eve more than a person would eat in a whole day. Binges are associated with feelings of guilt, disgust and having no control. Those who have binge eating disorder might binge in secret, making it hard for family and friends to notice.

Diabulimia is only found in Type 1 diabetics. Those with diabulimia take less insulin than they need to control their blood sugar and induce weight loss but risk serious medical issues such as falling into a coma and even death.

Drunkorexia is a new slang term that describes the practice of restricting food intake in order to drink more alcohol. It’s often driven by a desire to avoid gaining weight by replacing calories normally obtained from food with nutritionally empty calories from alcohol.

Statistics from an American study of student psychology suggests that 30 per cent of 18-24 year olds have skipped meals in order drink more alcohol later on. Drinking on an empty stomach is particularly dangerous and can lead to excessive intoxication, blackouts, alcohol poisoning and illness.

Lastly, orthorexia is defined as the compulsion to eat only what is labeled as “healthy,” “clean,” or “natural” foods. Those with orthorexia may have started with the goal of improving their diets but spiral into excessive food fixation.

Those suffering from orthorexia may refuse to eat foods they have not prepared themselves, citing various self-imposed dietary restrictions. Food choices eventually become so restrictive that physical and mental health suffers. Those suffering from orthorexia often view themselves as completely dedicated to their health.

If any of the above information is something that you have done or have considered doing, then it might be a good idea to step back and think about your relationship with food and body image. It might not mean that you have an eating disorder, but how we eat is worth thinking critically about.

Eating disorders can take over your life in ways you may not notice. You have power over your life. Your relationship with food and your self-image should not dictate how you live.

If you suspect that you have an unhealthy relationship with food, tell someone. If you feel anxious, guilty or distressed when thinking about food, eating or your body, it may be time to think about reaching out for assistance.

Tell a parent, a partner, a friend or healthcare professional — just make sure you tell someone. Seeking help is the only way to improve your health. A dietitian, counsellor or doctor can help you find a healthier path.


Graphic: Stephanie Mah

  • Guest

    I never knew orthorexia was an eating disorder. Good job on this article!