In previous blogs, Dr. Ali Ghahary has written about the importance of healthy eating, as well as offered information on low-carb diets such as the Paleo diet and South Beach diet for individuals looking to lose or maintain their weight.
Sadly, there is also a very dark side that can come along with nutrition – one that often goes swept under the rug by those suffering due to the fear and stigma that is attached to it: Eating disorders.
An eating disorder is a psychological condition that is characterized by abnormal eating habits, such as binge eating or anorexia. Patients who suffer from eating disorders will typically preoccupy themselves with negative thoughts relating to food and body image, and will take extreme measures to look a certain way. Eating disorders also commonly co-occur with other mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, just to name a few.
Anorexia, for example, is diagnosed when the patient weighs 15% less than the normal weight for their age and height. Hallmark signs of an individual who may be suffering from anorexia include limited food intake and extreme changes in appearance – i.e. looking abnormally thin, gaunt, and even pale. As individuals with anorexia have a fear of being obese or see themselves as obese, they will starve themselves by avoiding food. They may also exercise obsessively and will even use laxatives in effort to lose more weight. Over time, the body will go into starvation mode which can lead to other health problems such as anemia, dry or discoloured skin, brittle hair and nails, low blood pressure, drop in body temp, lethargy, constipation, as well as a cease in menstrual periods in women.
Binge eating is another very common eating disorder. It occurs as a result of consuming large quantities of food in a small amount of time. However, unlike anorexia and bulimia, the patient does not try to purge food or attempt to lose weight. Instead, binge eating can lead to obesity, which can then lead to more serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Eating disorders are often a result of some kind of psychological disturbance, such as trauma, depression or anxiety. In order to treat the eating disorder it is also important for Dr. Ali Ghahary to also treat the mental illness aspect of it. This can be done with medication as well as referrals to counselling services. A dietitian will also be able to better guide patients in nutritional management as well provide nutritional counselling to help regain healthy eating habits.
More resources can be found by visiting the BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services website at bcmhsus.ca.