Emotions and food are strongly connected. We eat to reward ourselves, to comfort ourselves or to reduce tensions. Nevertheless, someone does not immediately suffer from an eating disorder. However, conspicuous eating behaviour can become independent and one of various eating disorders – the transition from conspicuous to pathological is fluid.
From conspicuous eating habits to eating disorders
Food is more than just a basic need. It is social identity, expression of personality and shaped by culture. Many people do not only eat when they are hungry and do not always eat healthy and balanced food. Relatives, teachers and confidants should only become attentive when the attitude towards eating changes significantly.
When the person no longer eats pleasurably and with pleasure and is very concerned with weight and figure. If negative emotions may even occur in connection with eating (social isolation, aggression) or he/she has lost or gained a lot of weight in a short period of time – then action should be taken.
Eating disorders are comparatively rare, but serious mental illnesses that cause massive damage to the body.
Forms of eating disorders at a glance
Eating disorders can essentially be divided into four groups: Anorexia, eating-breaking addiction, eating addiction and the group of unspecified eating disorders.
Anorexia nervosa affects 0.5% – 1% of young adults. Most of them are girls aged between 14 and 18. Only every 11th person affected is male (then the clinical picture is also called manorexia). Patients often start anorexia with a diet that they do not stop, but continue more and more strictly.
They limit their choice of food more and more, often they only eat single vegetables (e.g. apples and cucumbers). Even if they are already pathologically thin, they perceive themselves as too fat. They refuse to keep the minimum body weight normal for age and height. In order to prevent “overweight”, they do excessive sport, fast, abuse laxatives or induce vomiting.
Bulimia – eating addiction
In Germany, about 600,000 people suffer from bulimia nervosa. Most of them are girls and women between the ages of 15 and 35. A large percentage of bulimic women were previously anorexic.
It is controversial whether bulimia is a consequence or trigger of depression. In contrast to anorexia and obesity, bulimia is rarely detected at an early stage. Because those affected show a rather inconspicuous behaviour and appearance: they are slim, successful, self-confident and life-affirming.
Their weight is within the normal range, but their everyday life is secretly dominated by fear of gaining weight. Those affected secretly suffer from regular eating attacks, which they hide from family and friends. They eat too much food during such an attack and only stop doing so when they experience abdominal pain or exhaustion, or when they no longer have any food available. Often vomiting follows. Also excessive sport, fasting or laxative abuse are characteristic.
Binge eating – eating attacks with loss of control
Binge eating disorder is the least researched eating disorder. Affected people are fixated on eating, in regularly recurring eating fits they gulp down huge amounts of food and drinks in a short time. They experience a feeling of loss of control, with the food apparently can no longer be stopped.
In contrast to bulimic people, however, they do not take any countermeasures: they do not vomit and do not take any laxatives. Those affected are often not very physically active. Since a lot of calories are consumed during an eating attack, the risk of being overweight is high. But it is not a sign of this eating disorder: binge eating can also occur in people with normal weight.
Some experts cite orthorexia as a new form of eating disorder. This is a fixation on “healthy” food. It is controversial whether there is really an eating disorder behind it, binding diagnostic criteria do not (yet) exist. However, as with the diagnosis of all eating disorders, thoughts constantly revolve around (healthy) food.
The pathological behaviour persists over a longer period of time and considerably reduces the quality of life of the person affected (social isolation). After eating foods that are perceived as unhealthy, feelings of guilt become severe.
Unspecified eating disorders
Only about 40 % of all people affected by an eating disorder show the typical symptoms of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. The majority of clinical and therapeutic practice is represented by “unspecified eating disorders”. This category is used to classify eating disorders that do not meet the criteria for a specific eating disorder.
Nevertheless, sufferers suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder, usually with the same condition and the same psychological and physical consequences as anorexia or bulimia.
In the case of an eating disorder, support from the social environment is important. In a therapy he also learns to use alternative coping strategies to overcome the problem, so that he no longer has to resort to too much or too little food.