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The Most Serious Eating Disorder

eating disorder

Eating disorders are defined by the American Psychiatric Association as “behavioral conditions characterized by severe and persistent disturbance in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions.” There are several different types and each are recognized as chronic psychological conditions listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders. The pervasive symptoms associated with any type of eating disorder can cause adverse physiological consequences and interfere with one’s ability to adequately function in daily life. Still, anorexia, formerly known as anorexia nervosa, is recognized as the most dangerous type of eating disorder because of its high mortality rate. The South Carolina Department of Mental Health assert that twenty percent of people suffering from anorexia will die prematurely due to complications related to their eating disorder.

Anorexia

Anorexia is characterized by “an abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight.” Though anorexia can manifest at any age, experts suggests it most commonly develops during adolescence. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) point to specific risk factors that can increase one’s propensity for developing anorexia, including, but not limited to the following:

  • Dieting and starvation: habitual dieting to the point of starvation can increase a one’s potential for developing anorexia. Studies have shown that starvation impacts one’s brain functioning and one’s ability to make rational decisions. In turn, restrictive eating behaviors are perpetuated and returning to healthy/ normal eating habits become increasingly difficult.
  • Genetics: Individuals with familial history of anorexia and/ or other eating disorders put certain people at higher risk of developing anorexia.
  • Transitions: emotional stress resulting from various life transitions (e.g., new school, move, death of a loved one, etc.) can increase the risk of anorexia.
  • Peer influence: teens going through puberty and adolescence face hormonal changes, increased peer pressure, and often internalize criticisms about appearance, which can put teenagers at a higher risk for anorexia. 

Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents. Further, it is considered one of the most lethal psychiatric disorders, carrying a sixfold increased risk of death. 

Signs and Symptoms

Everyone is unique, and as such, an individual struggling with anorexia will present with a distinct set of signs and symptoms. The Mayo Clinic does, however, provide examples of common signs and symptoms associated with anorexia, some of which may include, but are not limited to, any combination of the following:

  • Thin appearance
  • Insomnia
  • Extreme weight loss
  • In adolescents: not making expected developmental weight gains
  • Dizziness and/ or fainting
  • Abnormal blood counts
  • Fatigue
  • Thinning, brittle hair
  • Absence of menstruation
  • Dry and/ or yellowish skin
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dehydration

Certain behavioral warning signs may be exhibited by an individual struggling with anorexia such as skipping meals, over-exercising, obsessively reading nutritional information, constantly weighing themselves, regularly making excuses not to eat, denial of a problem despite excessive weight loss, and more. Individuals diagnosed with anorexia engage in a cycle of self-starvation that often results in severe malnutrition including a lack of essential minerals and nutrients. When an individual with anorexia becomes severely malnourished, every organ in his or her body can suffer irreparable damage, and without proper treatment anorexia can be life-threatening. 

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.

What Is A Food Therapist Called?

What Is A Food Therapist Called?

The most common reason to reach out to a food therapist is to help treat an individual struggling with an eating disorder. Though there are several different types of eating disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), in a very broad sense, eating disorders are characterized by severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. Eating disorders are complex psychological conditions that involve extremely unhealthy eating habits. If left untreated, eating disorders can have devastating effects and lead to severe short and long-term consequences. The treatment plan for an individual with an eating disorder will be unique and cater to his or her nuanced needs. It may include certain medications, a distinct combination of therapeutic modalities, and most treatment plans will require direct supervision from a food therapist. There are a couple of different types of professionals that may act as food therapists, such as a dietitian and a nutritionist. 

Dietitian

Dietitians are experts in dietetics, which according to the Oxford English Dictionary is defined as “the branch of knowledge concerned with the diet and its effects on health, especially with the practical application of a scientific understanding of nutrition.” A registered dietitian must gain certification through the completion of a bachelor’s degree, supervised experience (at an accredited healthcare facility, community agency, or foodservice corporation), and passing a national exam administered by the Commission of Dietetic Registration. Dietitians develop diet and nutrition programs that are tailored to each person’s objectives and personal needs. They play an integral role in the treatment of eating disorders, as they can provide the pertinent support needed to address abnormal eating behaviors.

Nutritionist

Nutritionists provide general support through nutrition education and community health. They can offer advice on how to live a healthier lifestyle and work with people to help them achieve health-related goals. Depending on one’s needs, a nutritionist may provide an individual with basic eating plans, motivations for eating well, and/ or address one’s fears and concerns regarding food and weight. Nutritionists are usually employed in hospitals, cafeterias, schools, athletic organizations, and long-term care facilities. Food therapists are not only for individuals recovering from an eating disorder. Anyone can benefit from working with a dietitian and/ or a nutritionist, as they are qualified experts on food and nutrition. Food therapists can help people learn how to better nourish their bodies, offer personalized guidance, and customized support. 

Feeding Therapy

It is important to note that although one may assume a nutritionist or dietitian may provide feeding therapy services, they do not. This service requires an entirely different skillset and is often facilitated by a trained occupational therapist or speech-language pathologist. Feeding therapy is used to treat individuals who lack proper feeding and swallowing skills (e.g., an adult recovering from a traumatic brain injury, a young child with low facial muscle tone, etc.). It is a therapeutic intervention that is designed to improve oral motor abilities, and provide comprehensive management of feeding, eating, and swallowing conditions for those in need.  

Disclaimer: 

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.