Forever on a diet? Anxious about food? Concerned about your body and how it looks? Sometimes, we can have mixed feelings about our bodies, or a complicated relationship with food. But when do our thoughts, feelings and behaviours related to food and our bodies become problematic? Keep reading for information on eating disorders, it’s prevalence in Canada, and early signs to get help.
Understanding Eating Disorders
Many of us have felt the pressure to fit into beauty standards. Or grappled with our self-worth, or been disappointed in what we see in the mirror and seek to change it. An eating disorder can develop when these feelings become overwhelming and start to drive our behaviour. The three most common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder.
To struggle with anorexia is to have an intense fear of gaining weight. This leads to intense food restriction, which may lead to a body weight below what it should be (Mayo Clinic, n.d.). You may cause yourself to throw up, use laxatives, and overexercise to avoid gaining weight (Legg, 2019). The challenge for someone with anorexia is they have a distorted view of their body and an obsession to be thinner, despite being underweight. This can lead to life-threatening consequences.
To have bulimia is to have repeated cycles of overeating followed by intense feelings of guilt and shame, resulting in self-induced purging, strict dieting, and/or extreme exercise. A binge is almost always the result of dieting and food restriction. People with bulimia can be a healthy weight or overweight, making it harder to tell if something is wrong. During a binging episode, people describe feeling out of control. This leads to physical and mental turmoil and can cause severe health challenges.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is when someone eats large amounts of food quickly and to the point of discomfort, even when not hungry. They may feel guilt, shame, and loss of control, and often eat alone or secretly. Their binge eating does not lead to compensatory weight-loss behaviours and is often associated with depression.
Prevalence of Eating Disorders
According to The National Eating Disorder Centre (NEDIC), there are up to 1,750,000 people in Canada who have symptoms of eating disorders at any given time, and research based on data from 6 children’s care facilities in Canada showed a 60% increase in eating disorders in children and youth compared to pre-pandemic levels (Journal of the American Medical Association).
An eating disorder is a severe mental illness with serious medical risks. It is not the same as dieting, although dieting can sometimes lead to disordered eating, which can sometimes lead to an eating disorder.
Signs of an Eating Disorder
It’s so important to know what signs to look for when it comes to eating disorders. The earlier we can intervene, the better the outcomes. Here are some signs to keep an eye out for:
- Fast weight loss, gain, or often changing weight.
- Often thinking about or conversations about food, calories, or body image.
- Restricting certain foods or deeming certain foods as “bad”.
- Not wanting to be social.
- Going to the bathroom a lot after meals.
- Excessive or preoccupation with exercise.
- Change in mood and/or sleep patterns.
Eating disorders can look different for each person, so if you are worried for yourself or someone you love, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Booking an appointment with your family doctor is a good place to start, and therapy is a powerful tool that can also help.