Eating Disorders: ‘Life-Threatening Mental and Physical Illnesses’

Thin woman with measuring tape in front of a mirror | Image by Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock
Thin woman with measuring tape in front of a mirror | Image by Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock

A webinar was held on Monday to bring awareness to eating disorders and their damaging effects.

The May 20 webinar hosted by the Healgood community allowed attendees to learn about eating disorders and how serious they can be.

Dalia Hinojosa, MA, LPC, specializes in eating disorders and explained during the webinar the types and causes of eating disorders, including signs and symptoms, and how to support someone who struggles with an eating disorder.

“Eating disorders are real, life-threatening mental and physical illnesses, with potentially fatal consequences,” Hinojosa said. “In fact, eating disorders are the second most fatal mental health disorder, taking second place only to opioid use disorder.”

Hinojosa’s placement of eating disorder-related fatalities might be underestimated, as research indicates that the death rate for anorexia is the highest among all mental illnesses due to its complex and intricate nature.

Hinojosa further shared that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives, meaning 9% of the population.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders created by the American Psychiatric Association classifies five different types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), and other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED).

Anorexia nervosa is the restriction of nutrient intake due to fear of gaining weight. Bulimia nervosa is when someone eats large amounts of food at one time before getting rid of it through vomiting or by taking laxatives. Binge eating disorder is when someone eats large amounts of food in short periods without feeling they have the ability to stop or control how much they are consuming.

ARFID is when someone limits the amount of a certain food they eat, sometimes resulting in not wanting to eat, fearing something bad will happen if they eat certain foods, and often being mistaken for picky eaters.

OFSED refers to those who have several symptoms across all the eating disorders but may not meet all the required criteria for these conditions.

Often, eating disorders are also accompanied by other disorders such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and more.

“Eating disorders do not discriminate. In pop culture, the media likes to portray [them as] something that only affects affluent women, but that is not the case,” Hinojosa shared.

Some signs and symptoms of an eating disorder can include but are not limited to increased anxiety regarding food, eating, exercise, weight, shape, size, and consequences of eating. Some other symptoms can include mood swings, increased irritability, increased anxiety around an event involving food, checking your body in the mirror several times a day, often pinching or pulling on your skin, food rituals, skipping meals, dieting, and more.

Some physical signs of an eating disorder include weight fluctuations, abnormal heart rate and blood pressure, gastrointestinal complaints, irregular menstrual cycles, dizziness (especially upon standing), lightheadedness, fatigue, weakness, and sleep problems.

For those who are connected to someone with an eating disorder, it is important to support them, Hinojosa stressed.

“Taking more of a health-at-every-size stance, instead of relying on [a] scale, to dictate health, challenge your own stereotypes, and know the signs and the risks, I think those are really important and helpful,” Hinojosa said.

If you suspect you or someone you know may have an eating disorder, speak with a mental health professional.

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