Eating disorders can come in many different forms, but the consequences of having an eating disorder remain severe, no matter the type of eating disorder the person has.
Many people look into the mirror and don’t like what they see. Chances are, almost everyone can point to some specific problem with their appearance, from an abundance of freckles to a lack of hair to a nose that’s just slightly too big. While these issues might be real, they might also be quite easy to forget, allowing people to turn away from their mirrors with a shrug and go about the rest of their day without giving it another thought. For people with eating disorders, this forgetting is almost impossible to achieve. Each time they see their bodies in the mirror, all they see is a reflection of their weight, and they don’t like the image that stares back through the glass.
For some people, eating disorders lead to major health problems. In others, eating disorders lead to addiction issues.
At La Paloma, we provide integrated treatment for people who have both addiction and mental health concerns. We’ve worked with many patients who had eating disorder issues, and we’d be happy to help you too. If you have any questions about the information provided in this article, or you’d like to start the treatment process, please call our toll-free line today.
On average, an adult American woman consumes 1,833 calories per day, and an adult American male consumes 2,745 calories per day, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. People who have anorexia tend to eat far fewer calories during a standard day, and this limitation of calories might be a point of pride for a person with anorexia. By reducing the amount of food the person eats, that person feels just a little bit more in control, and the slimming body seems pleasing.
Anorexia is a disease that tends to begin during adolescence, but some people develop the disease in adulthood. While almost anyone can get anorexia, the vast majority of people who develop the disorder are female.
The culture also provides women with persistent and significant reminders that the ideal female is thin. For example, the National Eating Disorders Association reports that the average American model is 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighs 117 pounds. The average American woman, on the other hand, is 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. When faced with relentless pressure to be thin, it’s easy for almost anyone to develop an obsession and a subsequent eating disorder.
Anorexia can be interpreted as an obsessive need to be thin, but it can also be seen as a desperate need to take control in a world that seems stressful and hard to manage. For example, researchers found that women of varying races and socioeconomic backgrounds developed eating disorders as a result of enduring persistent environmental stress, such as partner abuse, racism or financial difficulties. For these women, controlling their bodies seemed like the best way to take some power back.
People who have anorexia may be desperately hungry, almost all of the time, but they might go to extreme measures to keep themselves from eating. They might subsist on only crackers, tea and diet soda, instead of nutritious foods. They might cook for others, and then never eat any of the foods they have made. They may exercise for hours and hours, hoping to work off any calories they have taken in. They might also use laxatives or enemas, hoping to purge their bodies of calories. As a result of all of this work, people with anorexia are often desperately thin.
They might work hard to cover up that fact, by wearing thick clothes or many layers of clothes, but it might be hard to ignore the wasting away that is taking place. In addition to changes in appearance, people who develop anorexia can also develop serious health problems, including:
- Brittle hair and nails
- Dry skin
- Heart damage
- Brain damage
- Organ failure
- Thin bones
Without treatment, people with anorexia can die. The body needs fuel in order to survive, and without that fuel, major systems in the body begin to break down, one by one. If the person starts eating once more, some of that damage can be undone. But without help, death can follow.
People with bulimia nervosa also desperately want to be thin, and they might also want to be in control over aspects of their lives that seem to be going in the wrong direction, but the methods they use to achieve the results they seek can also be destructive and ineffective. The world around them doesn’t change, just because the way they eat has changed, and according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), people with bulimia nervosa tend to have a healthy weight, and some are even slightly overweight. In other words, they don’t achieve control with the disorder, and they don’t achieve the extreme thinness they want, either.
In the beginning of the cycle, the person eats a huge amount of food, all in one sitting. Some people report feeling as though they were in a trance while they were eating like this, downing huge amounts of food without even tasting it or realizing that they were eating. People who report these trances might only stop eating when their bodies cannot accept any more food, or when they run out of food to eat. Often, these binging episodes happen in secret, as the person knows that others wouldn’t understand or accept the behavior. The person might feel deep shame, or even physical disgust, about the binge as they look around them and realize just how much food they’ve eaten. In the second part of the cycle, the person attempts to turn back the clock and undo the damage caused by the binge. The person might use forced vomiting, or the person might use laxatives or diuretics in order to stop the calories in food from hitting the body.
Vomiting is a natural response the body uses when it encounters a poison and needs to eject it quickly, but vomiting can also be extremely damaging. Bulimics can wear away the enamel of their teeth, burn their throats, damage their salivary glands and develop chronic heartburn, all from exposing their delicate tissues to acidic vomit. Those who abuse laxatives can also develop intestinal irritations, as well as dehydration. This chronic dehydration can lead to heart and kidney problems.
Binge Eating Disorder
This is a relatively new classification of eating disorder, but it’s remarkably common in the United States. NIMH reports that 1.2 percent of the US adult population could be diagnosed with a binge eating disorder, and 2.8 percent of US adults have had this disorder at one point during their lives.
People with binge eating disorders also engage in compulsive eating, taking in an entire day’s worth of calories in just one sitting.
These people might also feel deep shame and disgust, as they can’t seem to gain control over the behavior, but those with binge eating disorders don’t resort to purging to remove the food from their bodies. Instead, they suppress their feelings, until they feel the need to binge once more. Since people with this disorder eat a large amount of food each day, they are often overweight or obese.
Carrying around a significant amount of weight can be dangerous, putting pressure on the heart, lungs, kidneys and other vital organs. Extra weight can also lead to painful joint conditions, reducing mobility and further increasing depression and a need to binge.
Eating Disorders and Addiction
Having an eating disorder can make a person feel desperate, stressed out and out of control. In order to calm their troubled minds, some people turn to drugs and alcohol. They might struggle with their addiction issues, and since they’re already under pressure due to their eating disorders, that addiction struggle could make their lives seem almost unbearable. In a study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, researchers found that people with bulimia nervosa reported more negative consequences due to their drug use, when compared to people who didn’t have eating disorders, even though there were no differences in the use of drugs in the two groups. In other words, people with bulimia didn’t use greater levels of drugs when compared to others, but they
suffered more due to the abuse.
For example, methamphetamine reduces the appetite, allowing people to go for days without eating anything at all. For people with anorexia, the drug might seem like a perfect companion, allowing them to reduce their cravings for food and achieve even greater levels of thinness.
The type of therapy provided to people with eating disorders is heavily dependent on the type of eating disorder the person has, and whether or not that person has substance abuse issues or other mental health issues that might stand in the way of a complete and quick recovery. Once that assessment is made, and a treatment plan is pulled together, people with eating disorders can find relief.
In essence, the family is asked to take over meal preparation for the anorexic person, and a therapist helps the entire family learn more about the disease and how it can distort views about nutrition and healthy eating. Over time, as the person begins to achieve a healthy weight, the person is granted more control over food prep duties. According to research cited by the American Psychological Association, two-thirds of people who participate in this type of treatment achieve a normal weight without entering a hospital, and they achieve better mental health as well. This is a remarkable outcome.
People with bulimia can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, in which they’re asked to truly look at their problems and come up with effective solutions. Instead of deflecting their pain by focusing on food, they can problem solve and come to a real resolution that can reduce their suffering.
- Identify negative thought patterns
- Modify inaccurate belief systems
- Speak their inner thoughts
- Relate to others
These same therapy techniques might be beneficial for people dealing with substance abuse and addiction issues, as therapy will help them identify when they’re tempted to abuse substances instead of solving their problems in a healthy manner. People with binge eating disorders can also benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy.
People with eating disorders may feel isolated, as though no one really understands their thought patterns and the goals they’re trying to achieve. As a result, they may become accustomed to keeping their thoughts hidden and their dreams secret. In order to break through this isolation, some programs encourage their patients to participate in support group meetings. Those with addictions can benefit from 12-step groups focused on substance abuse, such as Narcotics Anonymous, but there are some support groups made just for people with eating disorders. Eating Disorders Anonymous, for example, holds both in-person meetings and online meetings for people who have eating disorders. For people in recovery, meeting others who are just like them can be revolutionary and can lead to long-term success.
If you’re ready to leave your addiction and your eating disorder behind, we’d like to help you.
Our Foundations Treatment Model is designed for people who have issues just like yours, and it has a proven track record of success. Please contact us today to find out more and to start the enrollment process.