Did you know that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of all the mental health conditions?
Yes, you read that right.
Eating disorders like anorexia are four times more likely to result in lethal consequences than the major depressive disorder.
And do you know what makes them so deadly? Despite being so dangerous, people sometimes don’t consider eating disorders as urgent or high priority as they do other severe psychological conditions like borderline personality disorder or suicidal tendencies.
So, eating disorders – despite having the most damaging consequences on your health – are often undiagnosed, untreated, and are dismissed as something that’s not serious enough to require immediate professional assistance.
People usually think that an eating disorder is just a phase that you eventually snap out of, but in reality, it’s a deeply complex condition that rarely goes away on its own.
Eating disorders are complicated, real, and life-threatening medical illnesses that have been confirmed by the National Institute of Mental Health.
A lack of knowledge is often the reason why people don’t acknowledge their eating disorder and get proper treatment on time.
So, let’s go over some important details so you can get a better understanding of things and approach your eating disorder with the right mindset.
Eating disorders is an umbrella term that consists of a host of conditions where a person has developed an unhealthy and dangerous relationship with how they see food and their body.
Anorexia, Bulimia, Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder(ARFID), Binge Eating Disorder(BED), Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED), are some of the most common eating disorders that – although they belong to the same category – have differences in their symptoms, and most importantly, how they are treated.
As eating disorders are not as common as other mental health disorders, most general practitioners don’t have enough information to guide people toward the right form of recovery options.
Misdiagnosis is a common hurdle that keeps people from getting the proper treatment as a GP might often find it hard to pinpoint the exact eating disorder a patient is experiencing.
Misdiagnosis has the potential to result in severe harm.
In most cases where an eating disorder is not identified correctly, it puts the person’s health at risk, can delay recovery, and sometimes calls for treatment options that are harmful and irrelevant to the person’s scenario.
To better understand why the right diagnosis matters, take the example of having flu. It could be just the normal flu, or it could be a symptom of a different virus entirely, so diagnosing the symptoms properly is crucial, and misdiagnosis can often lead to irrelevant treatment and harmful consequences later on.
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) and Anorexia nervosa are often confused and misdiagnosed the most among the different eating disorders.
So, what makes them different, and how can you tell them apart?
Anorexia nervosa, commonly known as Anorexia, is an eating disorder where you have an unrealistic perception of body weight and a strong fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.
People suffering from Anorexia have an extreme obsession with their food choices and body image to the extent that it starts to become a psychological disorder, so they start relying on all kinds of unhealthy ways to stay thin or lose weight, such as calorie restriction, compulsive exercising, fasting, or self-induced vomiting.
Anorexic people deny their hunger, make excuses, or refuse to eat. They adopt rigid eating routines and restrict themselves to eating only small amounts of food out of the fear of gaining weight or looking fat.
A person suffering from anorexia may malnourish themselves to such an extent that their body could stop performing its functions properly, and organs may start experiencing failure.
On the other hand, Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is characterized by a person’s inability to meet nutritional needs without having any problems with their body image. Instead, the only problem they have is with the food itself and how it feels.
They only rely on a specific group of foods, and the denial of other foods could be due to several reasons.
For example, it could be due to the smell, color, taste, or texture of food. They may only eat foods with certain sensory qualities and avoid everything else.
They may avoid certain foods out of the irrational fear that consuming them can lead to choking, vomiting, nausea, or pain swallowing, so they avoid them altogether.
The biggest difference between ARFID and Anorexia is that people who are suffering from Anorexia malnourish themselves out of the fear of looking fat or having body image concerns.
Whereas people suffering from ARFID malnourish themselves because they only resort to certain types of food and deny eating anything else. They also don’t maintain a rigorous exercising routine or resort to dangerous ways to purge their foods like vomiting, or us using laxatives.
The complications that could arise due to ARFID and Anorexia are very similar and could include:
Severe and life-threatening weight loss.
Slowed brain function and experiencing memory or cognitive issues.
Cardiac problems ranging from irregular heartbeat to heart failure.
Kidney or liver failure.
Osteoporosis or bone loss.
Constipation, bloating, or gastrointestinal issues.
Loss of menstruation in women.
Low testosterone in men.
Death or suicide.
Although both of these disorders share similar complications and symptoms, they are still very different in the reasons that lead to malnourishment and negative relation with food in each case.
It is also important to note that although ARFID can affect people of all ages, it primarily affects children. ARFID is also the only eating disorder where boys are more commonly affected than girls. However, the same is not the case with Anorexia. Therefore, the approach to treating them is also very different.
For example, people with ARFID have little to no fear of weight gain, so if you misdiagnose an ARFID patient with Anorexia, counseling them with body image issues won’t help them at all as their negative relationship with food stems from some other reason entirely(the food itself).
It is also observed that people with ARFID often have other coexisting mental health conditions as well such as Autism or Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
So, in such cases, the proper treatment for someone affected by ARFID would be behavior therapy and exposure therapy instead of the traditional talk therapy used for treating Anorexia.
And the combinations of treatments can vary as different people may require different approaches depending on their specific circumstances.
Therefore, having a proper certified professional looking over your eating disorder treatment cannot be emphasized enough, and choosing the right person could be the difference between fixing your eating disorder for good or getting the wrong treatment and falling into a much worse relapse.
Keeping the needs and risks of a person with an eating disorder in mind, our team of specialized professionals is determined to help you by providing a comprehensive assessment to determine the exact type of eating disorder and the core issues that are making your life difficult.
After careful evaluation, appropriate medical stabilization, psychiatric help, nutritional rehabilitation, or weight restoration is provided so you can improve your condition and get back to living a healthier and happier life.