Categories
Eating Disorders

What is Orthorexia?

Our global community has become increasingly health-conscious, often pushing for strict workout regimes and meticulous diets. Celebrities and social media influencers have turned into our health gurus, guiding us through a plethora of diets, all of which come with appealing promises (weight loss, health benefits, toxin removal, reduced animal cruelty, etc). While it is important to prioritize one’s physical wellbeing, healthy eating can turn dangerous, when it becomes an obsession. The obsession with healthy eating is called orthorexia and in a study conducted by Carla E. Ramacciotti and colleagues, there was a 57.6% prevalence in the population examined by the said researchers.

Most diets that are currently gaining popularity have a list of “good” foods and a list of “bad” foods. For example, the Paleo Diet focuses on weight loss and health improvement through the consumption of unprocessed foods. “Good” foods in this diet include fresh fruits and vegetables; meat (free-range chicken/grass-fed); wild-caught fish; nuts; and herbs. “Bad” foods include corn, potatoes, processed foods, “junk” foods (soda, chips, candy), pasta, corn, soy, and refined sugar. The strict guidelines and restrictions attached to most diets make an individual susceptible to developing a fixation with food and feeding habits.

According to dietician nutritionist Bridget Komosky, orthorexia may become comorbid with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), because of the preoccupation with ritualistic eating habits. In Komosky’s words: “If foods considered “unhealthy” are consumed, thoughts can often become so distressing that individuals feel the need to perform a compulsion (which can often include over-exercising and/or fasting in order to relieve anxiety).” Symptoms shared by orthorexia and OCD include: an obsession with reading food labels and the nutritional value of food; a religious focus on social media platforms about healthy living; the expression of extreme anxiety in the presence of “bad” foods or in the absence of “good” foods; and the complete exclusion of a wide variety of foods from one’s palate. Additionally, orthorexia also makes it very difficult for individuals to enjoy a meal outside the comforts of their personal settings (i.e. a restaurant or a friend’s house).

What makes orthorexia stand out from many other eating disorders is that those affected by it aren’t generally preoccupied with their body image. In other words, while most disorders such as bigorexia, anorexia, pregorexia, bulimia, and diabulimia all revolve around the fixation with one’s physical appearance, individuals with orthorexia are focused on the specifics of what they consume and how healthy their lifestyle is. Treatment for orthorexia includes cognitive behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy (a mixture of cognitive, behavioral, and meditative therapies), medication, and consultation with nutritionists.

Orthorexia is very ironic indeed, as it is hard to imagine that one can exacerbate one’s well-being while trying to improve it. Although orthorexia isn’t strictly revolved around body image, the resulting obsession with food and feeding habits mirror most other eating disorders. Additionally, while those inflicted with orthorexia are focused on eating healthy, the OCD-like symptoms and habits concentrated on food restriction can have very serious negative consequences. As a result, it is important to raise awareness about the importance of discussing diets in ways that are less restrictive or less “good” or “bad,” and more lenient and follower friendly.

 

Sources:

Kelly, D. (2018, January 22) A Detailed Paleo Diet Food List of What to Eat and Avoid. Everyday Health. Retrieved November 25, 2018, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/g00/diet-nutrition/paleo-diet/detailed-paleo-diet-food-list-what-eat-avoid/?i10c.encReferrer=&i10c.ua=1&i10c.dv=22

Komosky, B. (n.d.) The Relationship Between Orthorexia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Walden Behavioral Care. Retrieved November 25, 2018, from https://www.waldeneatingdisorders.com/the-relationship-between-orthorexia-and-obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/

“Orthorexia.” (n.d.) Mirasol Recovery Centers. Retrieved November 25, 2018, from https://www.mirasol.net/eating-disorders/orthorexia.php.

Ramacciotti, C.E., Perrone, P., Coli, E., Burgalassi, A., Conversano, C., Massimetti, G., & Dell’Osso, L. (2011). Orthorexia nervosa in the general population: a preliminary screening using a self-administered questionnaire (ORTO-15). Eating and Weight Disorders, 16(2), 127-30.

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Eating Disorders

The Weight of the Issue

“If you develop an eating disorder when you are already thin, to begin with, you go to the hospital. If you develop an eating disorder when you are not thin, to begin with, you are a success story. So when I evaporated, of course, everyone congratulated me on getting healthy.” These resounding words were spoken by poet Blythe Baird, when she was reciting her poem “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny” at the 2015 National Poetry Slam. Her words shine light on yet another hidden group in the eating disorder community, overshadowed by the stereotypical face of eating disorders that is primarily young, white, skinny, and female. Moreover, referencing the third sentence of Baird’s poem, we as a society contribute to the exacerbation of disordered eating in overweight, obese, or even normal weight individuals by complementing and encouraging the weight loss, before inquiring about its cause.

A study led by Jason M. Nagata from the University of California San Francisco revealed that overweight and obese individuals were twice as likely to engage in disordered eating behaviors (binge eating, meal skipping, fasting, vomiting). However, overweight and obese individuals were also half as likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder, because of the common misconception that only underweight individuals can be affected by eating disorders. Additionally, a harrowing finding made by Mayo Clinic psychologist Leslie Sim revealed that there was a nine-month delay in the diagnosis of individuals who were once overweight or obese, in comparison to individuals who were underweight or of normal weight.

Overweight and obese females aren’t the ones at risk as their male counterparts are perhaps even more overlooked. After 16-year-old Zachary Haines was classified as obese following a physical examination, he became preoccupied with extreme exercise routines and calorie intake. While Haines’s preoccupations allowed him to lose 100-pounds, they also severely diminished his physical well-being, causing him abdominal pains, irritability, and a lowered pulse rate. Despite these ailments, it would be more than a year before Haines was hospitalized and diagnosed with an eating disorder. According to his mom, Haines’s eating disorder was dismissed by specialists including “a primary-care physician, two endocrinologists, a liver specialist, and nutrition experts” all of whom applauded the weight loss, instead of addressing the glaring health problems and the exact manner in which the 100-pounds were lost.

An important issue that Haines’s story brings to light is that of positive reinforcement and its effect on individuals with eating disorders. In Baird’s poem, there is a line that reads:

Girls at school who never spoke to me before stopped me in the hallway to ask how I did it. I say, “I am sick.” They say, “No, you’re an inspiration.” How could I not fall in love with my illness? With becoming the kind of silhouette people are supposed to fall in love with? Why would I ever want to stop being hungry when anorexia was the most interesting thing about me?

While it may come from a well-meaning place, positive reinforcement can at times be a toxic source of encouragement for individuals with eating disorders. In Baird’s case, the positive reinforcement created the illusion that her anorexia was the key to leading a life of intrigue and popularity. Similarly, in Haines’s case, encouragement from doctors further promoted his behavior and thus exacerbated his health.

We live in a society where skinny equates to pretty. I hear the phrase “Did you lose weight? You look so good!” at least three times a week, from well-meaning friends and family members. It is hard not to resist the temptation to skip a meal here and there and push myself a little harder at the gym, when doing so comes with the promise of beauty and acknowledgment. To be completely honest, I have pushed myself to lose weight by going without food or by pushing a 1-hour workout to a 2 hours and while I did lose weight, I wasn’t happy. Being hungry, being nauseous, being dizzy to the point of fainting did not make me happy. We need to break out of the mindset that skinny equates to pretty. We need to become aware of the fact that a person doesn’t have to be underweight in order to have an eating disorder. So the next time you notice that someone has lost a significant amount of weight, ask them how they lost weight and strive to encourage healthy weight management.

 

References:

 

Button Poetry. (2015, November 3). Blythe Baird – “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny” (NPS 2015) [Video File]. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16Tb_bZZDv0

 

“Eating Disorders and Obesity: How are They Related?” (2009, March 6 ). NEDIC. Retrieved  November 14, 2018, from http://nedic.ca/eating-disorders-and-obesity-how-are-they-related.

 

Miller, A. (2014, December). Losing weight, but not healthy. American Psychological Association. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/12/losing-weight.aspx.

 

Monaco, K. (2018, June 13). Eating Disorders Common in Overweight, Obese Young Adults. MedPage Today. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.medpagetoday.com/primarycare/eatingdisorders/73467.

 

Muller, R. (2015, March 26). Anorexia Affects More Men Than Previously Thought. Psychology Today. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-about-trauma/201503/anorexia-affects-more-men-previously-thought.

 

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Eating Disorders

Night Eating Syndrome

Living on campus, where the dining halls are up and running into the wee hours of the night, many students have run out at 12 am or even 2:35 am, mid-assignment or mid-study session, to grab a quick bite. There is a certain kind of pleasure, a sense of mischief that comes with eating fries at 2 in the morning. However, late-night snacking can become a problem for many individuals. Characterized by the propensity to overeat at night, this condition is called night eating syndrome or NES.

There are numerous noteworthy statistics associated with NES. First of all, approximately 1.5% of the population has NES and more than 25% of people who struggle with obesity also struggle with NES. Additionally, while people generally consume 15% of their daily calories within the 8 pm – 6 am time frame, individuals with NES consume 56% of their daily calories within this time frame.

Symptoms of NES include loss of appetite in the morning or morning anorexia; depressive symptoms at night; insomnia four or five times a week; and overeating at night. Although the main cause of NES has yet to be identified, risk factors include obesity; the existence of another eating disorder; depression; anxiety; and substance abuse issues. It is also important to understand that while there are similarities between NES and binge eating disorder (BED), the two are strikingly different from one another. Binge eating disorder is defined by the consumption of large quantities of food in one sitting, whereas NES is defined by the consumption of

An individual diagnosed with NES can be treated in a variety of ways including medication (SSRI), cognitive behavior therapy, behavior therapy, progressive muscle relaxation, and phototherapy. Among these techniques, the use of medication is considered to be most effective, according to an experiment conducted by John P. O’Reardon et al. The results of this experiment revealed that 71% of the participants in the sertraline (SSRI) group showed improvement, as opposed to the 18% in the placebo group. Additionally, the participants in this group who were previously struggling with obesity reported significant weight loss, compared to their counterparts in the placebo group (6.4 pounds vs. 0.66 pounds).

Midnight snacking often feels like a sacred oasis during a sleepover or when you’re in the middle of cramming for an 8 am exam. However, for people with NES, a “midnight snack” is more than just a mischievous trip to the fridge. For people with NES, a midnight snack is a double-edged sword. On one hand, there is a sentiment of escape that comes with eating, but on the other, it also means nights of lost sleep, weight gain, and health issues. While NES can be difficult to diagnose sometimes, scientific advancement and increasing social awareness provide us with hope about the near future of NES and other eating disorders.

References:

Allison, K. C., & Tarves, E. P. (2011). Treatment of night eating syndrome. The Psychiatric clinics of North America, 34(4), 785-96.

Bell, L. (2016, April 15). Night Eating Syndrome: Signs and Symptoms. Eating Disorder Hope. Retrieved October 29, 2018, from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/night-eating-syndrome-signs-and-symptoms.

Miyaoka, T, et al. (2003). Successful treatment of nocturnal eating/drinking syndrome with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. International Clinical Psychopharmacology, 18(3), 175–177.

O’Reardon JP. (2006). A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of sertraline in the treatment of night eating syndrome. Am J Psychiatry, 163(5):893-8.

Ratini, M. (2017, January 12). “What Is Night Eating Syndrome?” WebMD. Retrieved October 29, 2018, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/binge-eating-disorder/what-is-night-eating-syndrome#2

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Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders Among Child Beauty Queens

Little girls are often lost in their own little worlds, playing princesses and slaying their own dragons, with their shiny armors and glittery tiaras. They don’t need Halloween to roll around in order to dress up and shine, for every day is Halloween when you’re having fun impersonating your favorite heroes. However, there is a strict divide between little girls who wear their costumes in the comfort of their own surroundings and little girls who are sparkled and shined for beauty pageants. Not only are girls from the latter group exposed to a completely different lifestyle with constant hair, makeup checks, and camera attention, but they’re also more vulnerable to developing eating disorders and body dissatisfaction.

A Huff Post article presents interesting data regarding the prominence of body dissatisfaction in young girls. First of all, it states that eating disorders are becoming prominent in “children as young as 6 years old,” and that 10-year-olds are now going on diets. Additionally, it states that 50% of girls in the 11-16 age group have considered undergoing cosmetic surgery.   

Given these striking statistics on young girls, it wouldn’t be completely wrong to assume that children who participate in beauty pageant experience some levels of anxiety and concern regarding their appearances. A 2005 study conducted by Anna L. Wonderlich from the University of Minnesota and fellow researchers Diann M. Ackard and Judith B. Henderson sought to examine the correlation between “adult disordered eating, body dissatisfaction, depression, and self-esteem.” The study used data collected from 22 women: 11 of whom had participated in a beauty pageant during their childhood and 11 who hadn’t. While results for the two groups didn’t vary wildly in terms of bulimic tendencies, body perception, depression, or self-esteem issues, participants who had partaken in childhood beauty pageants expressed greater body dissatisfaction.

Another perspective taken on this issue is the hypersexualization of young girls by beauty pageants and shows like Toddlers and Tiaras and their contribution to the development of eating disorders. In a CNN article, Melissa Henson (director of Grassroots Education and Advocacy at the Parents Television Council) accuses the show Toddlers and Tiaras of sexualizing young contestants and argues that it leads to eating disorders, depression, self-esteem issues, and decreased aspirations for STEM fields.

In our current society, children are exposed to a plethora of information through social networks and media sources. While it is important to ensure that younger generations are knowledgeable and aware, exposure to social expectations on beauty and sexuality can often be detrimental to their perception of themselves and the world around them. As a result, child beauty pageants have the potential to pose a great threat, which may stay with them for decades to come, to their young contestants.

References:

Henson, M. (2011, September 13). ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ and sexualizing 3-year-olds. CNN. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from https://www.cnn.com/2011/09/12/opinion/henson-toddlers-tiaras/index.html.

L Wonderlich, Anna & Ackard, Diann & B Henderson, Judith. (2005). Childhood Beauty Pageant Contestants: Associations with Adult Disordered Eating and Mental Health. Eating disorders. 13. 291-301. 10.1080/10640260590932896.  

Perry, C. (2011, August 2). Sexualization of Young Children Linked to Eating Disorder Development. Huff Post. Retrieved September 30, 2018, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/sexualization-young-girls-eating-disorders_b_906192.

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Eating Disorders

No Such Thing As “Too Old”

Eating disorders have long been affiliated with populations ranging from the preteen-early 30’s age range. However, as with many physiological or psychological ailments, eating disorders don’t just vanish once an individual reaches a certain age. While numerous individuals recover from their eating disorder, many go on to live with them for the rest of their lives. Many individuals may even develop an eating disorder well into their 60’s!

Dr. Holly Grishkat is a site director for Philadelphia’s The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders, where she also overlooks a “Thirty-Something and Beyond” program, for adults struggling with eating disorders. In an article for Today’s Geriatric Medicine, Dr. Grishkat mentions that many individuals who partake in the “Thirty-Something and Beyond” program have struggled with eating disorders for decades. “After 30 years, the eating disorder has become almost a personality characteristic for these women, as many of them define themselves by the eating disorder,” she says. The program also consists of individuals who have relapsed as well as those whose eating disorders developed at a later age.

While some symptoms and triggers may be similar between young and older populations affected by eating disorders, a Psychology Today article states that the two populations are affected by very different stressors. For instance, younger individuals are often affected by media standards, self-esteem issues, peer relations, or stressful experiences. Older adults, on the other hand, are affected by “the death of a spouse, parent or close friend or divorce, empty-nest, retirement and menopause” states Dr. Martina M. Cartwright.  

However, geriatric eating disorders may not always be caused by the listed stressors. In a 2016 study, Francesco Landi et al. examines the anorexia of aging, which, as the name suggests, is the emergence of an anorexia-like state in older adults, due to the loss of appetite.

Landi attributes the loss of appetite to numerous factors some of which include: the deterioration of taste buds and olfactory receptors, hormonal changes, medical conditions and the resulting effects of medicine on food intake; difficulty chewing, mobility (diminished ability to cook or obtain food); and social isolation.

As with younger individuals, anorexia has drastic effects on the elderly, with some negative side effects being: malnutrition, poor bone health, weakness/ “frailty,” diminished mobility and physical capabilities, and death.

So how do we battle the anorexia of aging? Landi recommends increasing the quality and aesthetic of food as well as the ease of access (easier to consume/obtain). Additional suggestions include improvement of social interactions and medical treatment.

The seeming lack of focus on the struggles of older populations with eating disorders demonstrates the prevailing misconception that eating disorders only affect the young. The harrowing idea of an eating disorder shadowing an individual for decades or the severity of anorexia in the elderly calls for an increased awareness on this topic.

References:

Cartwright, M. M. (2013, October 4). Does Grandma Have an Eating Disorder? Psychology Today. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/food-thought/201310/does-grandma-have-eating-disorder

Landi, F., Calvani, R., Tosato, M., Martone, A. M., Ortolani, E., Savera, G., … Marzetti, E. (2016). Anorexia of Aging: Risk Factors, Consequences, and Potential Treatments. Nutrients, 8(2), 69. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu8020069

Schaeffer, J. (n.d.) Elder Eating Disorders: Surprising New Challenge. Today’s Geriatric Medicine. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from http://www.todaysgeriatricmedicine.com/news/exclusive_0409_03.shtml.

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Eating Disorders

Too Little, Too Soon

How many times do you look at yourself in the mirror in a single day? Around 4-8 times? Maybe a little more, maybe a little less. Have you ever looked at your reflection and poked at your “food baby” or pushed your chin into your neck and sighed whined about your double chin? If yes, you’re not alone! Most of us have sighed at our bodies, and vowed to only eat salad or workout at least five times a week. People also adopting fad diets, which promise significant weight loss in very little time. However, this promise of weight loss comes at a high, hidden cost: your wellbeing.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) defines fad diets as: “a diet that promises quick weight loss through what is usually an unhealthy and unbalanced diet. Fad diets are targeted at people who want to lose weight quickly without exercise.” While fad diets sound like an easy path to weight loss, there are numerous risk factors associated with them, and their general effectiveness is dubious at best.

To begin with, it is important to note that fad diets reduce water weight, instead of fat. Losing water weight is highly problematic because our bodies rely on it to protect us from dehydration. As a result, not only do fad diets provide an extremely temporary solution to weight loss, the resulting dehydration can lead to significant drops in blood pressure, seizures, and urinary and kidney problems (Mayo Clinic Staff, n.d.).

Most fad diets limit consumption to specific types of food. Popular examples include: the grapefruit diet, which recommends eating only grapefruit; liquid diets, which is based solely on liquids; and the “crazy for cabbage” diet, which, like the grapefruit diet, recommends eating only cabbage (“Fad Diets,” n.d.).

Due to the very restrictive nature of fad diets, they deprive individuals of numerous essential nutrients that make up a well-balanced meal. Consequently, they place a significant strain on the body, cause fatigue, and increase the chances of developing cardiovascular diseases (Boyington, n.d.).

While weight gain and dieting are common issues around the world, fad diets have gained a large audience in South Korea. According to Tessa Domzalski of the University of Canberra, a K-Pop girl group called Nine Muses recently shared their experience with the “paper cup diet.” The diet requires participants to consume all of their meals (mainly grains, fruits, and vegetables ) in three-ounce paper cups, for a total of nine cups per day. The paper cup diet has become popular among fans as well as individuals who belong to pro-anorexia groups (Domzalski, n.d.). As with nearly all fad diets, the paper cup diet strictly monitors calories. Consequently, those who follow it are vulnerable to numerous risks, including the development of eating disorders as well as the aforementioned health conditions.

Beauty has become a top priority for men and women in today’s society. Advertisements trumpeting body modifications and high beauty standards are plastered everywhere, on trains, buses, radio stations, T.V. channels, magazines, and billboards. Sometimes it is difficult to not get caught up in the obsession with having the “perfect” body. While it is important to stay fit, it is also equally–if not more–important to maintain a proper diet and a healthy routine, as our actions often have the potential to lead to severe risks of harm to our bodies.

References:

Boyington, A. (n.d.) 7 Reasons You’ll Never Lose Weight on a Fad Diet. Reader’s Digest. Retrieved April 22, 2018, from https://www.rd.com/health/diet-weight-loss/fad-diets/.

Domzalski, T. (2017, January 25). The Paper Cup Diet Is a Dangerous Fad in Korea That Needs to Be Addressed. Spoon University. Retrieved April 22, 2018, from https://spoonuniversity.com/healthier/the-paper-cup-diet-is-a-dangerous-fad-in-korea.

“Fad Diets,” (n.d.). UPMC. Retrieved April 22, 2018, from http://www.upmc.com/patients-visitors/education/nutrition/pages/fad-diets.aspx.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.) Dehydration. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved April 22, 2018, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/symptoms-causes/syc-20354086.

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Eating Disorders

A Peek at Pica

Caregivers of infants and toddlers are often heard shouting the words, “Don’t put that in your mouth!” In the time frame between birth and the age of eighteen months, children explore their surroundings by putting things in their mouth. While seemingly harmless and innocent at first, this behavior turns into pica, a life-threatening eating disorder which is when non-food items are consumed on a regular basis by individuals older than 2 years old.

Pica is prevalent among 10-32% of children who are 1-6 years of age, and the type of non-food substances often differs by age. According to an Everyday Health article, “youngsters will eat paint, plaster, string, hair, and cloth. Older children consume anything from animal droppings, sand, and insects to leaves, pebbles, and cigarette butts” (Stewart, 2010).

Teens and adults with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are often vulnerable to pica. The most commonly consumed substances are soil or clay, but individuals may also eat “lead, laundry starch, plastic, pencil erasers, ice, fingernails, paper, coal, chalk, wood, plaster, light bulbs, needles, string, and wire” (Stewart, 2010). Additionally, pica may occur during the first trimester of pregnancy (Stewart, 2010).

The leading causes of pica are reported to be iron-deficiency anemia, malnutrition, and nutrition deficiency, as well as pregnancy. Pica is also caused by a craving for a specific texture.  In cases of anemia, malnutrition, and nutrition deficiency, treatment consists of referrals for vitamins and medication. Another treatment option is operant conditioning, in which individuals are given rewards for consuming proper food and punished for consuming non-food items (Rogge, 2016). While there is no official test that determines whether or not an individual has pica, testing for ingested toxins, anemia, lead poisoning, and intestinal blockages are recommended. Furthermore, the prevalence of pica may be determined by a thorough assessment of an individual’s clinical history (Pica, n.d.).

The cure rate for pica is vague. In certain cases involving children, pica may vanish with age. With individuals with developmental disabilities and mental disorders, pica may persist long into adulthood and may be reduced through the application of the aforementioned treatments. A common barrier to determining the prevalence and treatment of pica is the stigma and shame that individuals battling pica may encounter.

Most of us have experienced a craving for a “strange,” non-food item at some point in our lives. Perhaps our caregivers have childhood tales about us eating dirt or putting inedible substances in our mouths. While non-food cravings are often associated with very young children, they are also prevalent among teenagers and adults who are affected by pica. As with other disorders, the existing stigma about pica as well as its life-threatening nature, calls for a greater social awareness about this eating disorder.

References:

“Pica,” (n.d.). National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved April 9, 2018, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/other/pica

Rogge, T. (2016, February 21). Pica. Medline Plus. Retrieved April 9, 2018, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001538.htm.

Stewart, K. (2010, May 10). Pica: The Eating Disorder That’s Not About Food. Everyday Health. Retrieved April 9, 2018, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/eating-disorders/pica-eating-disorder.aspx

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Eating Disorders

Brainstorming about Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are sometimes incorrectly viewed and labeled as a “lifestyle choice.” However, the truth is that there are many categories of eating disorders, each caused by specific biopsychosocial factors, including family history, social pressures, and hormonal imbalances. Additionally, a Psychology Today article states, “Culturally mediated body-image concerns and personality traits like perfectionism and obsessiveness…play a large role in eating disorders,” (Jacobs, 2016).

One of the main divides that exist between eating disorders and many other mental disorders is the inadequate amount of brain studies done about eating disorders. However, Harvard is now collaborating with the Foundation for Research and Education in Eating Disorders to uncover the relationship between eating disorders and the human brain by establishing a brain bank.

Titled the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, the bank will study the brains of deceased individuals with eating disorders to develop an understanding of the changes that may occur in the brain as a result of eating disorders.

“We don’t really have a lot of information on what kind of brain changes, what kind of underlying pathology may be not only contributing to brain disorders but also caused by brain disorders, as induced by an altered diet,” said Dr. Sabina Berretta, the bank’s scientific director, indicating that the study will provide a new perspective on eating disorders.

Similarly, Kevin St. P. McNaught, the executive director of the Foundation for Research and Education in Eating Disorders, said that the bank will allow researchers to “understand the brain wiring or structural changes in people with [eating disorders]” (Weintraub, 2018). According to McNaught, the brains of deceased individuals reveal significant cellular changes that are not shown by the brain scans of living individuals.

Although Harvard has a successful brain bank dedicated to neurological disorders, there are numerous complications attached to the establishment of a brain bank specific to eating disorders, many of which are expected to delay conclusive studies. According to Dr. Bretta, the bank will require at least 20 brains per the three major categories of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Additionally, because people register to make donations years before they die, it often takes a long time to acquire conclusive data. Furthermore, Dr. Wilson Woo, the medical director of Harvard’s brain bank, states that it is more difficult to attain the brains of individuals with psychiatric conditions, as opposed to neurological ones, because people with psychiatric conditions often distance themselves from their friends and family and are unable to receive information about donations (Weintraub, 2018).

Due to the misconceptions about eating disorders and the social criticism encountered by individuals who have eating disorders, only one in ten people will seek treatment for their struggles with an eating disorder (Jacobs). Given the low treatment rates and the significant threats such as hospitalization, physiological and psychological consequences, death, the destigmatization of eating disorders is clearly very important. The creation of the brain bank will provide more insight on eating disorders and may hopefully alleviate some of the misconceptions surrounding this category of mental illness.

References:

“Eating Disorders,” (n.d.). The National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml.

“Eating Disorders,” (n.d.). Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/eating-disorders.

Jacobs, D.G. (2016, February 19). Eating Disorder Misconceptions. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/screening-health/201602/eating-disorder-misconceptions.

Weintraub, K. (2018, March 7). Harvard Brain Collection Will Help Scientists Dive Inside Eating Disorders. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/03/07/591512588/harvard-brain-collection-will-help-scientists-dive-inside-eating-disorders.

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Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders Among Athletes

Many of us who have been following the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, may have found ourselves marveling at not only the dedication and immense talent of the participating athletes, but also their well-toned and statuesque body structures. In our efforts at spotlighting athletic bodies, we often fail to realize the difficulties athletes may struggle in maintaining their body image. In fact, many athletes in recent years have stepped forward and described their battles with eating disorders, including some who are currently wowing the world with their performances in the Winter Olympics.

There are particular aspects involved in athletics which can contribute to the onset of eating disorders, including: the intense focus on meeting weight and muscularity requirements, the emphasis on appearance, and past struggles with eating disorders and traumatic life experiences (Athletes and Eating Disorders, n.d.). Additional risk factors include the pressure to meet societal body image expectations, “performance anxiety and negative self-appraisal of athletic achievement” (Athletes and Eating Disorders, n.d.).

Stacey C. Cahn, a clinical psychologist for Rowan University’s Wellness center attributes eating disorders among top-class athletes to the intensely competitive environments they encounter. “At that level of competition, athletes will take any advantage they can find,” she says (Schaefer, 2018).

In addition to competitive environments, another factor that is exacerbating the issue of eating disorders particularly in male athletes is the societal expectations and characterization of men. According to Ron A. Thompson, the consulting psychologist for Indiana University’s athletic department, male athletes are so reluctant about getting help for their eating disorders,  because of the social expectation for males to “be stronger and not need psychological assistance.”

In breaking away from these expectations, figure skater Adam Rippon (who made history by “first openly gay U.S. male athlete to win a medal at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics,”) has talked about his experience with “quiet starvation” in 2016, when his daily food intake was restricted to “three slices of whole grain bread topped with miserly pats of the spread I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. He supplemented his ‘meals’ with three cups of coffee, each sweetened with six packs of Splenda” (Crouse, 2018).

Although Rippon was able to address his eating disorder and take positive steps to recovery, some figure skaters have been forced to leave their athletic careers due to their problems with eating disorders, including Yulia Lipnitskaya from Russia and Gracie Gold from the United States (Crouse, 2018).

Sporting events will forever harbor highly competitive environments and be exposed to frenzied media and fan coverage, so it is safe to say that many current and future athletes are at risk, if we do not use such social outlets to raise awareness about the importance of positive body image and the prevalence of eating disorders in both genders. It is understandable that sports like wrestling cannot do without specific weight classes. However, even in the face of weight-centered sports, athletes and coaches should be made more aware and encouraged to choosing healthier routes to weight management.

References:

Crouse, K. (2018, Feb. 13). Adam Rippon on Quiet Starvation in Men’s Figure Skating. The New York Times. Retrieved February 22, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/13/sports/olympics/figure-skating-adam-rippon.html

Schaefer, M.A. (2018, Feb. 13). Male Olympic figure skaters open up about eating disorders. The Inquirer. Retrieved February 22, 2018, from http://www.philly.com/philly/health/male-olympic-figure-skaters-eating-disorders-anorexia-bulimia-20180213.html.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). (n.d.) Eating Disorders and Athletes. Retrieved February 22, 2018, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/about-us.

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, March 4). Adam Rippon. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 22, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Adam_Rippon&oldid=828816687

Categories
Eating Disorders

Taking a Bite out of Stress

It’s 2 a.m. You have an exam at 8:30 a.m. and a 10-page paper due at 12:00 p.m. As you jump back and forth between your exam notes and your essay, you find yourself reaching for a packet of chips or a candy bar. By the time you leave the house in the morning, your trash can holds a plethora of wrappers and you don’t feel too well.

Many people stress eat (either consciously or subconsciously) in order to suppress their stress. While this practice may be effective in momentarily reducing the effect of the stressors, they pose a threat to the physical and mental health of the individuals who stress eat.

Data collected by the American Psychological Association (APA) shows that 38% of adults either overeat or eat unhealthy food as a result of stress. Of the 38%, 49% stress eat on a weekly basis, and 33% use food as a distraction from stress.

Stress plays a major role in food choices and eating habits. An article published by Harvard Health states that in times of emotional distress or prolonged stress, cortisol (the stress hormone) is released rapidly, which increases appetite and pushes people to reach for food. Additionally, the article also states that individuals often reach for foods that are high in sugar and fat, because these foods “inhibits activity in the parts of the brain that produce and process stress and related emotions.”

Given the nature of the food most frequently consumed by stress eaters, the physiological consequences of stress eating often include weight gain and obesity. A Psychology Today article also attributes the side effects of stress on stress eating and weight gain. According to the article, stressed out individuals often sleep less and are less mindful, which causes them to reach for “comfort foods” more often than their relaxed counterparts. Additionally, the article states that individuals are more likely to stress eat at night and cites a study by John De Castro, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, which concludes that “food is less satisfying and has less satiety when eaten late at night than during the day, so we are more likely to keep eating” (Greenberg, 2015).

While stress eating may be confused with binge eating, Daniella Emanuel of CNN differentiates them as: “Binge eating is when someone quickly eats an abnormally large amount of food in a short amount of time and feels out of control while doing it, such as downing an entire package of Oreos in a half-hour and then feeling guilty. Stress eating may be impulsive, but it’s not always followed by guilt.”

Although it is not possible to shield ourselves from the stressors in our everyday lives, there are various ways in which our stress can be managed. The Harvard Health article recommends using meditation, exercise, and social support as ways of managing stress (“Why stress causes people to overeat,” n.d.). Additionally, Emanuel suggests swapping out traditional unhealthy comfort foods with healthy alternatives and running errands as a distraction from eating (Emanuel, 2017). So the next time you find yourself juggling five exams, two papers, and a presentation, try doing some squats and reaching for an apple instead of a bag of buttery popcorn.

References:

“About Emotional Eating,” (n.d.). McCallum Place. Retrieved March 4, 2018, from https://www.mccallumplace.com/emotional-eating.html.

Emanuel, D. (2017, August 24). Can eating ever really relieve stress? CNN. Retrieved March 6, 2018, from https://www.cnn.com/2017/08/24/health/stress-eating-explainer/index.html.

Greenberg, M. (2015, December 7). Six Reasons You Indulge in Emotional Eating When Stressed. Psychology Today. Retrieved March 13, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201512/six-reasons-you-indulge-in-emotional-eating-when-stressed.

“Why stress causes people to overeat,” (n.d.). Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved March 4, 2018, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/why-stress-causes-people-to-overeat