Eating Disorder Awareness: Spread the Word

Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Eating Disorder Awareness: Spread the Word

By: Gretchen Savery

Published On: February 5, 2021

February 1st to 7th is Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW), a week dedicated to make echo of the relevance of Eating Disorders, the dangers and risk of people struggling with them and the resources available to help.

An Eating Disorder, now called Feeding and Eating Disorder (FED), is a serious life-threatening illness that involves a group of typical eating habits/ behaviours that greatly endanger health. These atypical and harmful eating habits are accompanied by disrupted thoughts and emotions about eating such as excessively worrying about food, their body image and weight. Moreover, the disrupted eating behaviours are related to deeper emotional roots, self-image and coping mechanism to deal with overwhelming feelings.

According to the National Initiative for Eating Disorders (NIED) approximately, one (1) million Canadians have a diagnosis of a FED such as, Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, Avoidance Restrictive Food Intake Disorder and Otherwise Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder. In addition, there’s many other people that have never been diagnosed and suffer from family and personal distress as a consequence. FED have the highest overall mortality rate of any mental illness in Canada with estimates between 10-15% according to NIED. These disorders can affect male and female, at any age, from any race and any social and cultural background.

There are different types of FED according to their specific characteristics. As per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-V):

  • Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by distorted body image and excessive dieting that leads to severe weight loss with a pathological fear of becoming fat.
  • Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by frequent episodes of binge eating followed by inappropriate behaviours such as self-induced vomiting to avoid weight gain.
  • Binge Eating Disorder is defined as recurring episodes of eating significantly more food in a short period of time than most people would eat under similar circumstances, with episodes marked by feelings of lack of control.
  • Pica is a rare eating disorder marked by persistent craving for unnatural, non-nutritive substances, such as plaster, paint, hair, starch, or dirt.
  • Rumination is the voluntary regurgitation in the absence of gastrointestinal distress (e.g., nausea, acid reflux) of food from the stomach to the mouth, where it is masticated and tasted a second time or ejected.
  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder includes a broad set of eating behaviours that involve the limitation or restriction of food or a certain type of food. In this case, it’s important to note that there is no body image concern associated to it.
  • Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) is characterized by distressful and impairing symptoms of an eating disorder, but not meeting the complete criteria for one of the other FED.
  • Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder has the same characteristics as OSFED with the difference that there’s no specific reason stated as of why it doesn’t meet the criteria, maybe due to lack of information.

Regardless of the type, a FED can be a fatal illness, but there is a treatment that can help, a combination of medical and psychological treatment is ideal. People suffering from FED need to be treated for the FED symptoms, its medical consequences and psychological factors that contribute to the maintenance of the disorder.

For the psychological part of the treatment, there are various psychotherapy approaches that have been proven effective, some of them are (defined by the American Psychological Association APA):

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) a form of psychotherapy that integrates theories of cognition and learning with treatment techniques derived from cognitive therapy and behavior therapy. CBT assumes that cognitive, emotional, and behavioral variables are functionally interrelated. Treatment is aimed at identifying and modifying the client’s maladaptive thought processes and problematic behaviors through cognitive restructuring and behavioral techniques to achieve change.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a flexible, stage-based therapy that combines principles of behavior therapycognitive behavior therapy, and mindfulness. It establishes a “dialectic” between helping individuals to accept the reality of their lives and their own behaviors on the one hand and helping them learn to change their lives, including dysfunctional behaviors, on the other. Its underlying emphasis is on helping individuals learn both to regulate and to tolerate their emotions.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of cognitive behavior therapy based on the premise that ineffective verbal strategies to control one’s thoughts and feelings actually lead to problem behaviors. It helps clients to abandon these restrictive strategies and instead experience and accept their difficult thoughts (conceived as just words put together in a certain way) and feelings as a necessary part of a worthy life. Clients then clarify their personal values and life goals, learn to make life-enhancing behavioral changes accordingly, and develop new and more flexible ways of thinking about and responding to challenges.
  • Psychodynamic Psychotherapy views individuals as reacting to unconscious forces (e.g., motivation, drive), that focus on processes of change and development, and that place a premium on self-understanding and making meaning of what is unconscious. Most psychodynamic therapies share certain features, such as emphasis on dealing with the unconscious in treatment and on analyzing transference.
  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) is a time-limited form of psychotherapy, originally based on the interpersonal theory of Harry Stack Sullivan, positing that relations with others constitute the primary force motivating human behavior. A central feature of IPT is the clarification of the client’s interpersonal interactions with significant others, including the therapist. The therapist helps the client explore current and past experiences in detail, relating not only to interpersonal reaction but also to general environmental influences on personal adaptive and maladaptive thinking and behavior.

FED is a serious illness that’s often overlooked and belittled due to lack of information. If you are struggling with FED, there’s treatment that can help you get healthy and stay healthy. You don’t have to go through it alone, reach out for help.

 

References

American Psychological Association website: https://dictionary.apa.org/

National Initiative for Eating Disorders (NIED). Eating Disorders in Canada available at: https://nied.ca/about-eating-disorders-in-canada/.