Life After An Adult Eating Disorder
Life After An Adult Eating Disorder
Although some people still think that adult eating disorders represent a lifestyle choice, in fact, the truth is that an eating disorder is a severe mental health condition.
People of all races, ages, social demographics, and genders can be affected, and since eating disorders bring social physical and psychological risks, they can actually be life-threatening. There have been studies to show that in the USA alone, around 20 million women have an eating disorder while around 10 million men are also affected. It’s clear that having an adult eating disorder is a major problem in society – one which needs to be better understood by the wider public.
Who is Affected By An Eating Disorder?
There are a number of reasons why eating disorders arise, however regardless of the cause, they all have one common factor – an abnormal pattern of eating which interferes with daily life. Disordered patterns of eating may eventually cause severe health problems and, in a worst-case scenario, even death. Although it’s possible for an eating disorder to develop at any age, young adults and teens are most affected. There has been research done that shows that around 13% of adolescents will have at least one kind of eating disorder before the age of 20.
Why Do Adults Develop An Eating Disorder?
Although most people think eating disorders only affect young women, in fact, they can affect anyone of any age and of both sexes. Most cases are found in adolescents, however, those adolescents grow up. Since only half of young people recover from their eating disorder before becoming an adult, If they never received the appropriate treatment they will still be suffering in adulthood. These people will have been suffering for decades. Other adult sufferers had an eating disorder in their teenager years, recovered and then relapsed in adulthood. Others simply developed an eating disorder late in life. In all three scenarios, the symptoms and potentially damaging effects are the same.
Is There More Than One Type Of Eating Disorder?
There are many kinds of eating disorder which can be diagnosed, although there are two which are better known and well publicized in the media – anorexia and bulimia. Apart from these two conditions, there are several other types of disordered eating pattern which may be less understood by the general public but which are no less potentially dangerous. Let’s take a closer look at some of those conditions.
The best-known adult eating disorder in the USA (and indeed, around the world) is anorexia nervosa. Around 0.9% of all American women will develop this disorder during their lifetime. Typically, this disorder develops when the sufferer is a teenager or young adult. While anorexia tends to be purely associated with women, there are many men who are also affected by this disorder.
Most people suffering from anorexia believe they’re overweight, even if they’re very underweight. They tend to monitor their weight continuously and to be very obsessed about how much they weigh. They often also avoid eating some food groups of specific foods and restrict the number of calories they eat on a daily basis severely.
People who have anorexia often have symptoms of OCD. Their thoughts are frequently preoccupied with eating and food. There are other additional behaviors which sufferers may also display such as collecting recipes, hoarding food obsessively and cooking for other people without ever eating the meals themselves. People suffering from anorexia often also struggle to eat in public or around others, and this prevents them from living a full social life, eventually leading to feeling increasingly isolated.
- Some common symptoms linked to anorexia include:
- Intense fears of putting on weight, even when considerably underweight.
- Distorted body image including denial of being underweight.
- A restricted pattern of eating including rituals around meals and eliminating certain food types.
- Low hormone levels, anemia, sleep problems, dental issues, and muscle weakness.
- Inability to maintain a medically appropriate bodyweight
After anorexia, bulimia is the next best-known eating disorder which affects women and men alike. Around 1.5% of American women are at risk of developing this condition. Similar to anorexia, most people suffering from bulimia usually begin suffering during their teenage or young adult years.
This disorder is characterized by binge eating an excessive amount of food in a brief time period until the sufferer feels painfully full. Afterwards, they will feel guilty and ashamed and this leads them to purge.
When going through an episode of binge eating, most sufferers feel that they have lost all self-control and struggle to stop eating. It can happen with all food types, however, in general, sufferers binge on the very foods they have previously restricted. In order to compensate for all the calories they have eaten, they then purge through forced vomiting, excessive exercise, using diuretics or laxatives or fasting. The behaviors linked to bulimia are often missed by family and friends since sufferers often stay at a normal body weight for their size and age.
There are some common symptoms and signs of bulimia which everyone should know about. These include:
- Intense fears of putting on weight, even when underweight or at a normal weight.
- Secretly eating food or hiding food.
- Going to the restroom immediately after eating a meal.
- Creating rituals surrounding meal times and food.
- A fear of eating in a public place or with other people.
- Maintain a punishing exercise regime regardless of the weather or illness to burn off excess calories.
- Stained, discolored or decayed teeth.
- Frequent dieting
- Concerns about weight or body shape
- Violent mood swings.
Binge Eating Disorder
While most people are aware of bulimia and anorexia, fewer people know about binge eating disorder. This recently recognized condition is actually more common than the other better-known adult eating disorders. Around 2.8% of all people in the USA are at risk of developing this problem. Usually, the first signs of the condition developing occur in the teenage or early adult years.
Although in some ways binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia, those who suffer from this condition don’t purge after binging but they still eat an excessive amount of food in a very brief period, often when they aren’t even hungry. This often leads to feelings of revulsion or shame.
- Some common symptoms and signs of this disorder include:
- Feeling uncomfortable eating food around other people
- Hiding or stealing food
- Becoming withdrawn from social activities and friends
- Dieting frequently
- Feeling guilty, depressed or embarrassed after overeating
- Fluctuations in weight
- Worrying about body weight and shape
- Disrupted eating patterns such as repetitive dieting, sporadic fasting or skipping meals
- Obsession with food
- Cutting out whole food groups like sugar, dairy, meat or carbs or trying fad diets
Other Adult Eating Disorders
Although these are the best-known eating disorders, there are a number of other eating disorders which can affect both men and women of all ages. Sufferers often develop their symptoms during their teenage years, but if the problem remains unaddressed they can continue to suffer into adulthood. Even when sufferers have received treatment, it can be a long road to recovery and sufferers may have lasting issues.
How Can Adult Eating Disorders Be Treated?
There are a number of ways in which therapists approach eating disorder treatments, however, it is known that intervening at as early at a stage as possible is beneficial for sufferers. In the USA there are many eating disorder treatment facilities which offer both outpatient and residential care for those with an adult eating disorder and each may use a different form of treatment. Sometimes, eating disorders co-exist with other mental health issues like depression or anxiety, and therefore both conditions need to be treated simultaneously.
Some patients receive intensive outpatient treatment during which patients are deemed to be stable enough to go to school or work and to live at home with the right support. They still receive counseling and therapy sessions however to boost their recovery. Other patients need to be treated at a residential treatment center. Those who are stable medically but need more constant monitoring as well as intensive psychiatric and therapeutic therapies will benefit from treatment in a residential center before returning to their usual routine.
Patients receive a number of forms of psychotherapy including ACT, CBT, CRT, and BHT therapies as well as one to one and group counseling. Their treatment will enable them to gain a better understanding of their eating disorder and instill in their new, healthier coping mechanisms to support their overall recovery.
Life After Eating Disorder Treatment
Once someone with an adult eating disorder has completed their treatment, they often feel overwhelmed and vulnerable when they go back to their everyday life. Yet with some appropriate support and key practices in place, after a few weeks, they’ll gain more confidence in themselves and their recovery.
One of the most important elements of life after treatment for an eating disorder is getting sufficient support from a wide range of people including friends, family, and therapists. Continuing to attend counseling sessions is helpful in continuing to avoid triggers and to help the sufferer to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
As the process of recovery isn’t simple, it’s important to stay flexible while returning to a normal way of life. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, afraid and stressed during recovery however, all of these feelings can be addressed. Some sufferers find that if they transition slowly at their own pace back into their former way of life, they can enjoy the best chance of a long term recovery.
What Is Your Body Like After An Adult Eating Disorder?
Many people who have had an adult eating disorder will suffer from long term physical and mental effects. Some of the areas which will be impacted include:
People with eating disorders often suffer from bone loss. This is especially true for women whose menstrual cycle stops due to their low body weight. Amenorrhea causes estrogen levels to become very low and this results in lost bone density. Women who are malnourished produce too much cortisol in their bodies which also triggers bone loss, while malnourished men often have a testosterone deficiency which also causes the loss of bone density.
Known as osteopenia, bone loss is common for those with an eating disorder and it can begin in the early stage of the disorder. Bone loss represents an especially severe problem for older adults, and particularly women who are already suffering from thinning bones due to the menopause which causes estrogen levels to drop even further. Stress fractures and osteoporosis or brittle bone disease can therefore develop.
Purging and restricting foods cause the body to become dehydrated which throws off its level of electrolytes. In turn, this causes muscle function to decrease. Since the heart is one of the body’s muscles, it cannot work properly if electrolytes aren’t in balance. When the heart isn’t functioning properly for a long period, heart arrhythmia, heart disease, and cardiomyopathy can occur. These effects may be fatal.
The Reproductive System
For women, having an eating disorder can affect their ability to get pregnant and stay pregnant. Women who have suffered from an eating disorder are at a higher risk of miscarriage or low infant birth weights.
If someone is malnourished for extended periods of time, the organs start to shut down because they lack sufficient calorie energy and nutrients. The brain is one of the most important organs of the body and if it fails to get sufficient nutrients it will lose brain matter. When nutrition and weight are restored, white brain matter returns, however gray brain matter will never return. While this may not immediately be evident, there may be a long term effect on concentration and cognitive function.
The Positives Of Life After An Adult Eating Disorder
Although there can be many long term issues associated with recovery from an adult eating disorder, it’s important to remember there are many positives too. Being able to return to a normal level of daily functioning and social interaction without obsessing about food or restricting intake can improve quality of life exponentially. The key is to get an early intervention to prevent the problem from progressing and getting out of hand. The more quickly the signs are spotted and treatment received, the better the chance of a full recovery.