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Eating disorders are deadliest form of mental health illnesses Dr. Nina: Eating disorders are deadliest form of mental health illnesses

Press of Atlantic City - 2/25/2017

Along with all the significant relationships we have in life, one of the most vital is our relationship with food. Like the other key relationships, it directly impacts our emotional and physical health and well-being.

We spend a considerable amount of time thinking about what we will eat (or not eat). "Food has a language." Along with those cookies or favorites that can call to us, so does our "self-talk" about food. As well, our food relationship can bond to our emotions, issues we may be facing, or feelings that we may be struggling with to express, face or resolve. While it may be for only a season, our focus of foods (including consuming only enough to survive) may be or may become a problem.

Eating disorders are on the rise throughout our nation among men and women. They are serious conditions that affect a person's emotional and physical health, and are characterized by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight or shape. Eating disturbances may include inadequate or excessive food intake.

Eating a regular balanced diet over long periods of time is essential for our good health; It is important to understand eating disorders for balance in managing wellness, not only for ourselves but also for those we love.

Dr. Nina's What You Need To Know: About Eating Disorders

First things first. There is a lot of misinformation, misconceptions and myths that surround eating disorders, including:

? Eating disorders are diets run amok

? Eating disorders are the result of unrealistic beauty ideals

? It's easy to spot someone with an eating disorder

The most common forms of eating disorders are real, complex illnesses that include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder and affect both females and males.

They are not a fad or phase but rather are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions. People struggling with an eating disorder have a distorted image of themselves and need to seek professional help. The earlier a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the greater the likelihood of physical and emotional recovery.

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What are eating disorders?

It is an umbrella term for complex mental health issues that involves emotions, attitudes and behaviors resulting in an unhealthy reduction of consumption or overeating. While eating disorders can result from poor body image perception, experts generally agree that the majority of cases are caused by negative coping mechanisms to deal with overwhelming feelings, internal struggles, painful emotions, or even self-punishment.

Eating disorder statistics?

Research shows that between 25 to 30 million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives! Here's a more shocking statistic: Every 62 minutes, at least one person dies due to an eating disorder. This makes it the deadliest of any mental health illness, surpassing depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

While anorexia and bulimia disproportionately affects females in their teens and 20s, statistics show men, older adults, and people of all ethnicities and socioeconomic status can suffer from these conditions. In fact, 1 in every 3 Americans affected by eating disorders are males, and 13 percent of women over the age of 50 have some sort of eating disorder behavior.

What is binge eating disorder (BED)?

It is when a person loses control over their eating, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders 5. It is associated with eating rapidly; eating until feeling uncomfortably full; eating when not physically hungry; and eating alone due to embarrassment over how much they are consuming at least once a week for three months. There is often significant distress over binge eating, such as feelings of disgust, depression or guilt. (The manual provides descriptive diagnostic categories to serve as a useful guide for clinicians in diagnosing mental disorders. It is widely accepted by medical and mental health professionals as the gold standard).

While the majority of people who are overweight or obese do not have BED, two out of three people that suffer from binge eating disorder are overweight. As a result, many of the harmful health affects are obesity-related and include: Type 2 diabetes, elevated blood pressure, joint pain, sleep apnea, and heart disease.

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Compared to some of the other eating disorders, BED has an increased prevalence in males; approximately 40 percent with the disorder are men, compared to men being 10 percent of people affected by anorexia and bulimia nervosa. The National Eating Disorders Association lists a number of characteristics and signs that people with BED may demonstrate. They include:

? Evidence of binge eating such as the disappearance of large amounts of food in a short period of time (e.g., finding wrappers, empty containers)

? Secretive food behaviors such as eating alone, eating in a car, or hiding or hoarding food

? Abnormal eating behaviors: not eating at set mealtimes; skipping meals; and developing food rituals (e.g., not allowing foods to touch, chewing excessively, only eating certain foods)

What is bulimia nervosa?

The DSM-5 defines it as recurrent episodes of binge eating accompanied by inappropriate compensatory behaviors to prevent weight gain. These include self-induced vomiting, using laxatives, diuretics or other medications, fasting, or excessive exercise. It is sometimes referred to as "binge-and-purge" cycles and are often association with a loss of control during the binge and shame/guilt during the purge.

Bulimia nervosa can have a number of harmful health effects:

? Stomach rupture from binge eating (rare)

? Esophageal inflammation and potentially rupture from frequent vomiting

? Electrolyte imbalances can occur because of vomiting, diuretics, or laxatives and result in heart rhythm disturbances that can be deadly

? Tooth decay from the stomach acid when vomiting

? Association with psychiatric disorders (e.g., depression) and death from suicide

Those who suffer from this condition are often normal body weight, hence, their appearance can be deceptive. Thus, warning signs are often behavior-related. According to the National Eating Disorders Association and other advocacy organizations, they include:

? Evidence of binging

? Evidence of purging such as trips to the restroom following a meal, the presence of wrappers or packages of laxative

? Calluses on the back of hands or knuckles from self-induced vomiting

? Teeth discoloration or staining from the stomach acid that passes through the mouth when vomiting

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What is anorexia nervosa?

It is characterized by a significantly low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, and a disturbance in which one's body weight or shape is experienced or a persistent lack of recognition of the seriousness of the current low body weight. Many perceive themselves as being overweight, despite that not being reality. For them, eating and weight control become obsessive.

Harmful health effects include: infertility; thinning of bones and brittle hair and nails; muscle wasting; low blood cell counts; fatigue; severe dehydration; and dry and yellowish skin tone. And, anorexia nervosa is deadly. A staggering 5 to 20 percent of those with the illness will die, making it a leading cause of death due to a mental health condition.

Some signs of anorexia nervosa include: an intense fear of weight gain; weighing themselves repeatedly; careful portion control; development of food rituals; growth of lanugo (baby hair all over the body); and consumption of very small portions of food.

Having a healthy, balanced relationship with food is vital. We need to be mindful about our eating; not only what we are eating but our behaviors of how and emotions surrounding our eating. More often than not, people find themselves eating for reasons other than hunger. Understanding and confronting an eating disorder is the first step to treatment. While in some cases the person suffering is the one who seeks help, often it lies upon family members or loved ones to help identify that there is a problem. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, reach out and seek professional help.

Dr. Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions on general medical topics to her at This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional. Radcliff has used all reasonable care in compiling the current information but it may not apply to you and your symptoms. Always consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.


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