Be slim, be fit, be beautiful! Eat healthy and balanced! Do sports! Wear the latest trends and put yourself in the limelight. The messages in advertising, in the media and in our environment exert an enormous pressure. We are supposed to conform to an ideal of beauty that is often not realistic, but distorted by striking advertising and brief snapshots. To emulate these ideals carries the risk of developing eating disorders.
But beware of jumping to conclusions: as with all mental illnesses, there are many causes for the development of an eating disorder that can interact. In addition to the influence of media, psychological causes such as low self-esteem, trauma, depression or body image disorders should not be neglected as reasons for an eating disorder. Find out in this article about the most common eating disorders, their treatment and the importance of a healthy diet for one’s well-being.
Not every dissatisfaction with the body, every self-doubt or even the most frequent diets result in an eating disorder. Nevertheless, the constant preoccupation with body weight or diet is definitely a risk factor for the development of an eating disorder. One should therefore be aware of the danger in order to recognize an impending disorder in time.
Anorexia (Anorexia Nervosa)
One of the most common eating disorders is anorexia (anorexia nervosa), with 0.2-0.8% of the population suffering from this condition (Wittchen & Hoyer, 2006). Affected individuals have a pronounced fear of gaining weight and refuse to maintain or achieve a minimal weight. As already indicated, a body image disorder is often present, i.e., the perception of the body and weight is distorted. For example, sufferers do not see in the mirror that they are objectively too thin, but still perceive themselves as too fat. The disease is often denied.
Weight and appearance are central to self-esteem in this disorder, and thoughts revolve only around this issue. In women, menstruation stops because of the underweight. Food intake is perceived as torturous. Every bite is discussed internally. Counting calories is like being burned in and cannot be refrained from.
Bulimia (Bulimia Nervosa)
Just as often as anorexia occurs Bulimia Nervosa (also called bulimia/eating-breaking addiction). Sufferers suffer from so-called “binge eating” attacks that occur repeatedly. Here, excessive amounts of food are consumed within a very short time. Those affected report a complete loss of control. After the binge, there are strong feelings of guilt and the behavior is compensated. Vomiting is often induced intentionally. In some cases, however, laxatives, fasting cures or excessive exercise are resorted to in order to compensate for the calorie intake. Also in this disorder, sufferers are extremely preoccupied mentally with their weight and appearance.
Commonplace are feelings such as:
If the “binge eating” episodes occur without intentional vomiting or medications, it is called binge eating disorder.
Other disorder patterns
Sports or fitness addiction should also not go unmentioned in the context of eating disorders, although this addictive disorder can also occur on its own. More information on this topic can be found on this website. Currently, there is a debate about whether to introduce a new disorder called Orthorexia Nervosa. It is an eating disorder in which excessive preoccupation with the quality of food leads to psychological or physical impairment. Loosely translated, one could speak of an addiction to healthy food.
Severe cases of anorexia require hospitalization. Extreme underweight poses a high health risk: Kidney failure, cardiac arrhythmias and infections can be life-threatening! Affected persons must first be physically stabilized before further therapy measures can be started (Wittchen & Hoyer, 2006).
Basic principles of treatment
In less severe cases, psychotherapeutic treatment can begin immediately in an outpatient or inpatient setting. In most cases, a treatment contract is made with the individual, which includes that a set amount of weight gain must occur per week and that foods that were otherwise avoided return to the menu. For both anorexia and bulimia nervosa disorders, cognitive treatment techniques have been well researched to change patients’ false beliefs about body weight. Sufferers learn about the consequences of the eating disorder and the vicious cycle of starvation and, if necessary, uncontrolled eating (in the case of bulimia).
In younger patients, we actively involve the environment as part of a family therapy. The trigger conditions and the factors that maintain the eating disorder are explored together with the therapist. Deeper-lying psychological conflicts are carefully worked through. The distorted perception of one’s own body is normalized in body schema therapy through body awareness exercises (Paul & Jacobi, 1991). The influence of the media on our ideal of beauty is also addressed. At the end of therapy, the focus is on stabilization and relapse prevention. For more information on eating disorders, see Federal Center for Health Education.
A balanced diet and normal eating behaviors are the goal of eating disorder treatment. Healthy eating is, of course, defined differently for everyone and depends on a wide variety of things.
Differences arise from the following things, for example:
Still, rules of thumb apply to all: healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, natural proteins and plenty of fruits and vegetables are good for the body. Too much sugar, too many fats and convenience foods should be avoided.
Benefits of a balanced diet
If we eat a balanced, conscious and varied diet, the body thanks us with enough energy and health. Also our mental efficiency depends on the nutrition. The better nourished we are, the better we can meet mental challenges and solve complex problems.
Many people are confused, given the abundance of nutritional wisdom and dubious diet and nutrition guides. Professional and respectable assistance supplies a nourishing consultation by experts. The costs are frequently taken over by the health insurance companies. Many clinics that specialize in the treatment of mental illnesses have included a wholesome and healthy diet in the therapy concept to guarantee holistic treatment. Finally, one aspect that has not yet been mentioned: enjoyment! Good food enhances the quality of life and fires up our senses. So, take the time to enjoy your next meal. See, feel, smell, taste… and enjoy!