For many of us, the dinner table is a place where we can join together with friends and family, share our day, laugh, and relax with good food and company. However, for some, the dinner table is a far more stressful and complicated place. Eating disorders are characterized by chronic, unhealthy eating behaviors that negatively impact your relationship with food and nutrition. Most people have an idea in their heads of what an eating disorder looks like, however, different disorders present in different ways, making them difficult to detect and treat. Eating disorders are fairly common among Americans. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), approximately 28.8 million Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. The good news is that eating disorders are treatable once recognized.
“Treatment for an eating disorder is long-term. The sooner you can intervene, the fewer complications you’ll have,” said Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Care and education specialist, Gale Pearson of TPMG Nutrition Services.
There are several common eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, orthorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa involves excessively limiting caloric intake or other extreme weight loss measures to maintain abnormally low body weight. Orthorexia nervosa is characterized by an unhealthy obsession with healthy or “clean” eating. Those with binge-eating disorders compulsively consume large amounts of food in one sitting. Bulimia is binge eating with compensatory behavior such as vomiting, excessive exercise or laxative abuse. While each eating disorder is different, they all involve an unhealthy relationship with food and eating.
There are several environmental factors that could impact the development of an eating disorder. Sports that require you to make a certain “weight” like gymnastics, ballet, wrestling, or cross country running could increase your risk. Chronic dieters and those with compulsive disorders or perfectionists are also at risk. Additionally, the way we speak about weight and food affects the people around us. Speaking negatively about yourself, someone you know, or even strangers could influence someone else’s relationship with food.
Unfortunately, those who have eating disorders might not realize they need help. Oftentimes family members and friends are the first to recognize the signs of an eating disorder and urge their loved ones to seek treatment. Some common signs that your loved one might be struggling with an eating disorder include:
• Severe food restriction, including restrictive diets
• Skipping meals or making excuses for not eating
• Social withdrawal, especially at mealtimes
• Repeated weighing or checking mirrors for perceived flaws
• Excessive meal rituals (including keeping food separated, counting food, etc.)
• Multiple complaints about being overweight
• Cooking meals for friends or family but not eating it
• Excessive exercise
Left untreated, eating disorders can pose a serious risk to your health. Eating disorders are the second-deadliest mental illness in America, with as many as 10,200 deaths in America per year directly related to an eating disorder. Health complications associated with eating disorders include anemia, osteoporosis, irregular periods, constipation, heart failure, and low blood pressure.
It’s never too late to receive treatment for an eating disorder. The road to recovery is a long journey and often requires help from a psychiatric professional specializing in eating disorders and a registered dietician. We all know the fix for a broken arm or sprained ankle, but eating disorders, like many mental disorders, require a different approach. If you or a loved one require treatment for an eating disorder, don’t be afraid to reach out to a TPMG dietician and trained psychiatric professional.
About Gale Pearson, MS, RDN, CDCES
Gale Pearson, MS, RDN, CDCES is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with over 25 years of experience working with patients on dietary and nutrition wellness planning. Gale received her undergraduate degree from Hampton University and her Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from Howard University.
With extensive experience in nutrition counseling, Gale works with her patients to develop strategies to improve their eating habits and lifestyles, in turn helping them to manage their weight and medical conditions. She credits witnessing her patients’ symptoms and overall health improvement as a result of the lifestyle changes as one of the most gratifying and rewarding aspects of her career.
At TPMG Nutrition Services in Newport News and Williamsburg, Gale provides one-on-one consultations, nutrition and weight management counseling, and diabetes education.