What do Karen Carpenter, Calista Flockhart, and Paris Hilton have in common? All three celebrities have fallen victim to eating disorders and have displayed symptom of extreme low body weight.
In Singapore, the number of teenagers with eating disorder has increased six-fold since 2002 and the Singapore General Hospital is seeing 140 new cases each year1. There needs to be greater awareness on the dangers and preventive factors of eating disorders.
What are eating disorders?
An eating disorder is a psychological condition whereby the person suffering from it has an overwhelming drive to be thin and a morbid fear of gaining weight.
The three common types of eating disorder are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
A person suffering from anorexia nervosa restricts food intake, resulting in excessive weight loss. In extreme cases, the sufferer may resort to purging by vomiting or taking laxatives to control weight. An anorexic counts his/her calorie intake obsessively and exercises compulsively to burn off extra calories. Anorexia nervosa can affect both men and women, and is most common in females between the ages of 15-24 years in Singapore.
Sufferers of bulimia nervosa indulge in binge eating and purging, and their weight fluctuates. Many bulimics overeat as a way to deal with stress, but at the same time they feel guilty about the amount of food they consume, and thus induce themselves to throw up2.
Individuals who binge only without engaging in extreme behaviours such as purging, fasting or engaging in strenuous exercise to compensate the guilt of eating too much would be suffering from binge eating disorder.
How to prevent eating disorders?
Everyday we are surrounded by unrealistic picture-perfect representations of what is considered beautiful. This has affected many peoples’ self-expectations about their appearance. A recent study revealed that in Singapore, 97% of women do not regard themselves as beautiful. Prevent yourself from falling prey to an eating disorder by:
- building a strong network of friends who love you for who you are and how you look like.
- having a healthy and balanced lifestyle by exercising regularly and eating moderately.
- not comparing your appearance with those of famous celebrities or supermodels.
Remember, their photographs are often digitally enhanced!
How can eating disorders be treated?
A person suffering from an eating disorder experiences negative effects on his/her physical and mental health. The person will feel dehydrated, malnourished, constipated, and dizzy. He/she may suffer from hair loss, brittle bones and teeth, loss of period for women, and the inability to concentrate.
There are some signs to look out for that may suggest that someone has, or is on the verge of developing, an eating disorder. This person:
- is obsessed with body weight, or being overweight
- only eats certain types of food, such as food low in fat/calorie content
- often picks at his/her food, appearing to have no appetite
- uses the bathroom immediately after eating
- makes excuses not to eat at meal times shows rapid fluctuations in weight (weight loss or weight gain)
- has mood swings, or is often in a depressed mood
- exercises excessively
If you observe that a friend or a family member is displaying the above symptoms, do approach him/her in a loving and non-threatening way. If they behave in a defensive and angry manner, it is important to show that you are not judging them by avoiding the use of accusatory words. Once they trust that your intentions are good, they would be more receptive to help.
The Singapore General Hospital has a Eating Disorders Programme that addresses the physical and psychosocial problems associated with eating disorders.
- What is the difference between anorexia and bulimia?
- Anorexics starve themselves while bulimics eat all the time.
- Anorexics do not purge after a meal while bulimics do.
- Anorexics suffer from excessive weight loss while bulimics suffer from weight fluctuations.
- What is a cause of eating disorder?
- Low self-esteem
- Having no appetite after a meal
- How can you tell if your friend or family member is suffering from anorexia?
- The person avoids eating at meal times and is extremely underweight.
- The person can be found eating obsessively and subsequently vomiting out the food.
- The person eats and exercises regularly and is able to maintain a stable weight.