From big biceps to six-pack abs, the fitness industry is full of insane physiques. Many nowadays idealize the "filter bodies" seen on social media and dream of living the Instagram way of life. In the quest of achieving their ideal physique and with little knowledge of how to do it right, many do hours of cardio, eliminate major food groups from the diet, even refuse to go out with friends or consult a health professional, and end up falling victim to an eating disorder.

What are eating disorders?

Individuals who suffer from an eating disorder have a strong fear of weight gain and a cruelly distorted perception of body and health. It leads to an unhealthy obsession with body weight and appearance that can translate into various habits that often include restricting food and counting calories, going on liquid diets, excessive working out, and inducing nausea.

Eating disorders are among the most fatal mental health conditions, causing more deaths than depression, as per Forbes Health. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders estimates that 9% of people in the United States will experience an eating problem at some point in their lives.

Common eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge eating

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is one of the most common eating disorders found among individuals. People with anorexia generally view themselves as obese, even if they're underweight. They exercise frequently, avoid eating certain types of foods and severely restrict their calorie intake.

Signs and symptoms of anorexia include:

  1. Intense fear of gaining weight
  2. Unusual eating patterns and exercising excessively
  3. Influence of body weight or perceived body shape on self-esteem
  4. Anorexics may lose a significant amount of weight and even starve to death

Bulimia Nervosa

Unlike anorexia, bulimia is often associated with feelings of shame or embarrassment. They can be severe conditions that impair physical, psychological, and social function. Bulimics frequently consume large amounts of food in a short period and then purge to compensate for the calories consumed and relieve gut discomfort.

Common purging behaviors include forced vomiting, fasting, laxatives, diuretics, enemas, and excessive exercise.

Signs and symptoms of bulimia include:

  1. Obsession with body image and weight
  2. Eating large amounts of food in one sitting
  3. Indulging in purging techniques to avoid weight gain
  4. Frequent trips to the bathroom right after meals

Binge eating

Binge eating, as the name suggests, refers to out-of-control episodes of eating a large amount of food in one sitting. To avoid embarrassment, individuals often binge alone.

Signs and symptoms of binge eating include:

  1. A distorted body image
  2. Low self-esteem
  3. Out-of-control episodes of eating
  4. Consuming large amounts of food rapidly

Over 10.5 million people globally are thought to be impacted by eating disorders, with teen girls and adult women being the most commonly affected groups, as per The Conversation.

Eating disorders and mental health

A poor self-perception of one's body can have a profound effect on mental health. People with eating disorders are frequently depressed about their weight, anxious about themselves, and often resort to drugs to escape reality. This can cause both long and short-term complications, depending on the type of eating disorder and how long the person has been affected by it.

Mental health concerns affecting people with eating disorders include:

  1. Constant stress
  2. Anxiety related to self-image
  3. Obsession about weight
  4. Withdrawal from family and friends
  5. Loss of interest in activities
  6. Violent actions
  7. Mood swings
  8. Drug and alcohol abuse

In all eating disorders, disordered thoughts and actions quickly lead to compulsions that threaten to overtake every minute of the person's daily life. Obsessing over calories and the need to work out makes it difficult for one to take care of their everyday responsibilities or maintain relationships. Disordered thoughts, desires, and behaviors caused by eating disorders can be fatal in some cases.

It is critical for people suffering from eating disorders to seek treatment as soon as they become aware of the problem, before it threatens to damage both their personal and professional life.

Obsession with body image and weight
Intense fear of gaining weight. (PHOTO: TAMAS PAP) Unsplash