By Apollo 24/7, Published on - 29 June 2021
Healthy eating in the context of sustainable weight management is important to achieve individual health goals. Some people who are more conscious about this aspect adopt various dietary fads to achieve those goals. Yet others take it to the extreme and indulge in unhealthy eating behaviours such as excessive eating or self-starvation. Such behaviours are identified as an eating disorder, which is actually a mental health issue that can affect a person’s physical and emotional wellbeing. If not diagnosed or treated, eating disorders can cause severe damage to the digestive system, heart, bones, teeth, and other vital organs.
Eating disorders are seen in around 5% of the population and usually develop during adolescence and young adulthood. Though eating disorders can affect any gender, it is more prevalent among women, and the common ones include:
The symptoms of eating disorders vary with the type. Spotting eating disorders may not be easy as it could be assumed as dieting. Also, a person with an eating disorder could be hesitant to share their eating troubles. However, some general symptoms that such individuals may exhibit are:
Some symptoms of eating disorders based on their type include:
The exact cause of eating disorders is not known but some factors that may be involved in developing an eating disorder include:
Some studies indicate that women tend to be more influenced by negative perceptions of physical appearance, as well as their susceptibility to social pressures. Objectification and sexualisation of women and gender stereotypes are also lead to the development of mental health disorders in women, including eating disorders. Though limited research has been done on this, studies have also indicated that other than cultural differences, other factors could also contribute to the development of eating disorders in women. One such study published in Oxford’s journal Cerebral Cortex included 32 healthy participants (16 men and 16 women) with no history of eating disorders.
The experiment: The participants were made to wear a virtual reality headset that gave them an illusion of their body getting slim or obese. During the study, the participant’s brain was getting monitored using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Results of the study: The results indicated that when the female participants were showed their obese self, there was more activity in two different parts of their brain, the parietal lobe (associated with body perception) and the anterior cingulate cortex (associated with emotions such as fear and anger), as compared to their male counterparts.
Conclusion: The scientists concluded that brain activity could be the reason for dissatisfaction with a particular body type in women. However, larger-scale studies are required to further understand the role of DNA (genes) and brain activity in the development of eating disorders in women.
The treatment for each person is customized according to their diagnosis. The treatment plan includes:
Eating disorders can be seen in anyone irrespective of their weight, body shape or gender and can bear severe consequences. However, a combination of medications, diet counselling and psychotherapy together can help in addressing the physical, mental and behavioural aspects of eating disorders. If you notice signs of an eating disorder in a family member or friend, talk to them about their concerns and advise them to consult a mental health specialist if required.
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