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Understanding Eating Disorders

On a normal day, we consume, on an average, three meals.

Think about your breakfast, lunch and dinner. What to have? From where to order in? What to cook? And then enjoying the same without any worry in the world. For you and me, it’s normal and rather…simple. But at times such a usual activity, that is eating or even the idea of it, is the reason behind someone’s suffering–both mental and physical. And we are now talking about something that is termed as “eating disorders.”

An eating disorder (ED) is a medical diagnosis. It basically deals with abnormalities linked to a person’s eating habits and acts which revolve around the concept of eating or the lack of it. Whether it is not eating at all, eating too much in too little time or even purging after eating a hearty meal; all of these habits find a place under the labels of different eating disorders.

Let us understand some of these briefly, so the next time we speak to someone we are much more informed.

1. Bulimia Nervosa

Eating large amount of food quickly in very little time. This happens when the patient is worried or just upset about something. The problem starts when the individual starts to feel guilty about eating soon, wanting to get rid of everything they ate.

2. Anorexia Nervosa

This one is a more common one. Anorexia or AN, is an ED diagnosis when a person is not eating enough to let alone stay fit but even for their body to function. It is eating too little, with wanting to be perfect, not liking the general idea of food and at times successfully restricting food intake or excessive exercising gives them a sense of achievement.

3. Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder or BED is completely opposite to what happens during AN. An individual who is diagnosed with BED, engages excessively into eating and food related thoughts. It is difficult for them to stop eating, therefore described as compulsive eating. It’s more like they find comfort in eating or to mask their feelings.

4. Other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED)

Individuals who are diagnosed with a significant ED, but cannot be specifically placed under bulimia or anorexia, are categorised under OSFED. The experiences of the individual maybe linked to other eating disorders as well.

5. Pica, ARFID, rumination disorder

Pica: It basically means consuming non-food items or things which lack any nutritional value (like paper, crayons, chalk, etc.)

ARFID: It stands for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. The individual may want to restrict or avoid food or certain food items.

Rumination disorder: Under this, the individual indulges in the act of expelling/spitting out the food they must have consumed.

What you read above, are just a few yet really worrying-worthy eating disorders commonly found in the western countries and of course in our homeland, India. A lot of their occurrences has to do with societal and peer pressures, zero-size body representation in movies and magazines, at times pre-existing mental illnesses contribute greatly. Genetics, family history, dieting and career choices too can lead to a diagnosis like this.

During this phase, an individual faces immense internal pressure with anxiety-related and depressive episodes, they question their self-worth, feel excessively stressful and angry this all later converts into long-lasting mental illnesses, body weakness, menstrual problems for women, eventually losing interest in sexual activities, uneven weight increase or decrease and at times even fatalities.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate among mental health disorders. The economic and social impact of ED was estimated to be upwards of INR 1057.8 billion in 2012, which is comparable to the productivity impact of anxiety and depression, at around INR 1262.3 billion in 2010. Having studies the eating environment in Indian schools, officials found disturbing eating habits in about 25-40% adolescent girls and 20% boys.

So what is the way out? Once identified, an individual or the ones around her/him can consult a doctor who will provide medication and a proper diet plan depending on the case, take the route of psychotherapy (speak to therapists and clinical psychologists) and finally one can even look into nutritional counselling.

At times, the above mentioned identification is a bit delayed. That is, at times the individual is confused and in denial. Situations can be tough to handle then, it is extremely important to take care when interact and communicate with them. The goal is to make them feel comfortable and not to make them think there is something wrong with them.

Here’s a few phrases that might help you,

- “I know it is difficult, but I am proud of you”

- “I might not understand, but if you need someone I am there to talk and help” - “You are worth much more than you think”

- “I believe in you”

- “I care about you and I am not going to leave.”

These are just simple phrases which any one of us would use in general chats, without attaching any heavy meaning to it. But when your world if narrowing with darkness, with no energy left and your mind is full of doubt, even five words from someone loved will give you the will to fight it through.

Now the next time you meet someone having a bad time due to this, I assume you will be a tad bit better informed and help them out.

But please don’t go assuming things, just because you friend refuses to eat a cookie. Observe and then conclude.


  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6657488/

  • https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Eating-Disorders

  • https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/what-are-eating-disorders

  • https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/eating-problems/types-of-eating disorders/#BulimiaNervosa

  • https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/your-stories/10-things-say-someone-with-an-eating-disorder https://www.theprojectheal.org/healblog/12-tips-talking-someone-eating-disorder

  • https://theswaddle.com/cultural-risk-factors-of-eating-disorders-in-india/

  • https://scroll.in/magazine/863540/over-25-of-teenage-indian-girls-suffer-from-eating-disorders-this-art-project-shows how-they-feel

- By Misri Kothari, PR Member and Content Writer at L2S + India


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