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Eating Disorders Are Not a Choice

  • Geetha Subramaniam

Demi Lovato says it’s possible to live well with mental illness- she tells fans, “I’m Living Proof. Demi Lovato opens up about her struggle with this devastating eating disorder in her new documentary and how it changed her life. She added: “Learning to love my body the way it is, is challenging but life changing. Giving up my eating disorder has been the most challenging journey of my life but I work every day towards solid recovery even if I mess up sometimes. Today I’m feeling strong. You all can do it too. It is possible,” Demi Lovato has said in the documentary. In a revealing interview with American Way magazine last year, Lovato revealed that she began binge-eating and purging which started in her youth and took over her life. She has traced these issues back to her early childhood. Her grandmother and mother battled with eating disorders and her father fought alcoholism, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

As a teen, Lovato began to cut herself and self medicate with alcohol, cocaine and painkillers. Demi Lovato was a child actor on Barney & Friends but found wider fame on the Disney Channel as a teenager. She starred in its hugely popular Camp Rock film series and then launched a successful solo music career. After the success of the film where she sang a few songs, she was given a recording contract by Hollywood Records and was further propelled into the limelight. In 2010, at the age of eighteen Demi entered a treatment centre for the first time to address her issues with eating and self harm, among other issues and was treated for anorexia and bulimia. Through treatment in an inpatient facility, she overcame her addiction and eating disorder and has become an official spokesperson for young people with similar issues. Demi is an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness, working alongside other organizations on behalf of Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health.

Eating disorder describes an illnesses that are characterized by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight and shape. Eating disturbances may include inadequate or excessive food intake which can ultimately damage an individual’s well-being. The three most common forms of eating disorders include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and binge eating disorder. People with anorexia nervosa will typically have an obsessive fear of gaining weight, refusal to maintain a healthy body weight and an unrealistic perception of body image. Many people with anorexia nervosa will fiercely limit the quantity of food they consume and view themselves as overweight, even when they are clearly underweight. Anorexia can have damaging health effects such as brain damage, multi-organ failure, bone loss, heart difficulties and infertility.

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by repeated binge eating followed by behaviours that compensate for the overeating, such as forced vomiting, excessive exercise or extreme use of laxatives or diuretics. The person who suffers from Bulimia may fear weight gain and feel severely unhappy with their body size and shape. People with bulimia eat much more (during a set period of time) than most people would. If a person regularly binges and purges, it may be a sign of bulimia. Unlike people with anorexia who are very low weight, people with bulimia may be thin, average weight or overweight. Bulimia can have injuring effects such as gastrointestinal problems, severe dehydration and heart difficulties resulting from an electrolyte imbalance.

Eating disorder can develop during any stage in life but typically appear during the teen years or young adulthood. Individuals who suffer from binge eating disorder will frequently lose control over eating. They eat large amounts even when they are not hungry and may also experience intense feelings of guilt, distress and embarrassment related to their binge eating, which could influence the further progression of eating disorder.

Eating disorder are complex disorders, influenced by a facet of factors. Though the exact cause of eating disorders in unknown, it is generally believed that a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental abnormalities contribute to the development of these illnesses. Example of biological factors includes irregular hormones, genetics and nutritional deficiencies. Moreover, psychological factors include negative and poor self esteem. Examples of environmental factors that would contribute to the occurrence of eating disorders are dysfunctional family dynamic, playing sports that focus on weight (gymnastics, ballet, ice skating and wrestling).

Eating disorders affects health and emotions. This disorder can cause serious problems throughout the body. Anorexia can lead to health problems caused by undernutrition and low body weight such as low blood pressure, slow or irregular heartbeats, feeling tired, weak and dizzy, constipation, bloating, weak bones, slow growth and delayed puberty. People with anorexia may find it hard to focus and have trouble remembering things. Mood changes and emotional problems are such as feeling alone, depressed, anxiety and fears about gaining weight.

Bulimia can lead to health problems caused by vomiting, laxatives and diuretics such as blood in vomit, swollen cheeks, tooth erosion and cavities. People with bulimia may have these emotional problems such as low self esteem, thought of hurting themselves, alcohol and drug problems. Binge eating can cause to weight related health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and sleep apnoea. Warning signs of an eating disorder in someone include dramatic weight loss, exercising too much, avoiding eating with others, changes in mood, eating very little food, engaging in ritualistic eating patterns such as cutting food into tiny pieces, hiding food, obsession with calories and fat contents of food.

Eating disorder could effectively be treated by a psychotherapist, dietician, therapist or counsellor as it is the result of misconceptions of the mind about body weight. To accelerate recovering rates, dietary prescription from a dietician is important. Health care providers and mental health professionals diagnose eating disorders based on history, symptoms, thought patterns, eating behaviours and an examination. Treatment includes nutritional counselling, medical care and talk therapy (individual, group and family therapy). Goals of nutrition education may be to work toward a healthy weight, practice meal planning, establish regular eating patterns. A good practice would be generally having three meals a day with regular snacks, take steps to avoid dieting or bingeing and focusing on correcting health problems that are a result of malnutrition or obesity.

The doctor might prescribe medicine to treat binge eating, anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns. The details of the treatment depend on the type of eating disorder and how severe it is. Some people are hospitalized because of extreme weight loss and medical complications. In severe cases, anti-psychotic drugs, antidepressants, anti-seizure or mood stabilizers may be prescribed to stabilize the emotion and prevent impulsive behaviour of binge eating. Psychological therapy is the most important component of eating disorder treatment. It can help to normalize eating patterns, achieve a healthy weight, exchange unhealthy habits for healthy ones, learn how to monitor eating and moods, develop problem solving skills and explore healthy ways to cope with stressful situations. If an eating disorder is not treated, it can result in serious medical problems. Having an eating disorder can interfere with home life, education, work and social life. If you think you might have an eating disorder, it is very important to see a health professional as soon as possible.


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