Eating disorders have the potential to cause irreversible damage and can be life-threatening if not recognized and treated urgently. This article will show you how to recognize the signs of the main types of eating disorders and what you can do, as a nurse, to help them recover.
What Are Eating Disorders?
An eating disorder is a severe mental health issue that involves distorted thinking and behavior patterns related to food and body weight.
Eating disorders can appear at any age, but it is most frequently seen in adolescent or young adult women, and symptoms can vary depending on which type they have, which will be covered later.
A combination of biological and environmental factors may be to blame, primarily cultural and social pressures regarding body image that the media can perpetuate. However, genetics and certain personality traits, like avoidance and perfectionism, can also play a role in developing eating disorders.
Below, you will find a description of each of the most common eating disorders so that you can recognize them in individuals and lead them to treatment.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that is associated with the fear of gaining weight and a skewed perception of thinness. Therefore, patients who struggle with this often appear to have an extremely low body weight.
This happens because individuals with anorexia will avoid food as much as possible and restrict the number of calories to consume. When they eat, they may try to purge these calories through vomiting and other means like laxatives and diuretics and exercising too frequently.
Bulimia nervosa shares many similarities with anorexia nervosa; there is a preoccupation with losing weight, and a lot of the behaviors are the same, but the manner in which food is consumed is entirely different.
While people with anorexia will try to avoid consuming calories as much as possible and religiously try to burn them off, individuals with bulimia will consume food quickly in a short period of time, an act that is known as binge-eating, and then try to purge these calories through the many of the same methods that people who struggle with anorexia do.
Unlike the previous two conditions, the binge-eating disorder occurs when patients have uncontrollable eating habits and, therefore, will often be at risk of being overweight or obese. However, people of average weight can also still have a binge-eating disorder.
People with this eating disorder often use food as a way to cope with negative feelings and emotions, and it can become a compulsive behavior people lose control over. As a consequence, many individuals will feel guilty or shameful and try to hide their eating behaviors from others, and have poor self-esteem and body image issues.
How To Help Someone With An Eating Disorder
Although eating disorders can have key distinctions, as you’ve seen above, many of the general strategies are the same when it comes to approaching them and finding a treatment plan for them. Here are some of the main ways this is done:
1. Encourage Getting A Diagnosis
Suppose you have a patient who is showing signs of an eating disorder, especially the ones that are more visibly apparent, like anorexia and bulimia nervosa. In that case, it’s important that they get diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
For instance, in addition to their body weight, patients might complain of stomach issues, feeling cold, having brittle hair and nails, skin discoloration, dental problems, and general weakness, and naming a few of the most common indicators.
However, one main concern is that people with eating disorders initially believe that they don’t have a problem with their eating habits and body weight. Unfortunately, this resistance is quite common, but they can make the right choice and save their own life by informing them about the signs and symptoms and why their current weight is unsustainable.
If caught early enough, people can make a full recovery by following a treatment plan, and as a nurse, you can have a vital role in helping them get started on that path.
2. Discuss Treatment Options
Once a diagnosis has been determined, patients with eating disorders can start getting treatment and start making a recovery. While some individuals may require medical attention such as surgery, the primary way that eating disorders are addressed is by trying to alter their thoughts and behaviors regarding their body image and food.
This can be done by finding support from a mental health professional who understands the complexities of eating disorders and can help change the distorted perceptions that are associated with them.
For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to do this. This method has been proven to be very effective in treating eating disorders and conditions closely affiliated with it, such as anxiety, depression, and OCD.
People with eating disorders will also need to work with a dietitian or nutritionist who can help them get on track to safely getting healthy body weight. It will be emotionally challenging for people with eating disorders to make changes to their weight. Still, with a combination of nutritional coaching and mental health counseling, it does get more manageable for them.
3. Point Them Toward Educational Resources
While professional diagnosis and treatment is an integral part of overcoming an eating disorder, it’s also critical that patients are also able to learn more to try to understand what is happening in their minds and bodies so they can make profound changes.
There are all kinds of fantastic resources online to help people educate themselves about eating disorders, such as BetterHelp’s advice section.
Not only are there free articles like this one for people to learn from here, but they can also discover how they can find a licensed professional who can aid them in overcoming anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders.
Schools, especially colleges and universities, can also provide these resources since eating disorders often appear around individuals who attend them.
The treatment of eating disorders requires proper education for all parties involved. Nurses and other healthcare workers can benefit greatly by recognizing the signs and symptoms of common conditions like anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating. Hopefully, by reading this article, you’ve gained a better understanding of how to distinguish these, so you can spot the indicators, screen patients, and get them started on the healing process.
This article was contributed by Marie Miguel, who has been a writer and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.