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The Psychology of Eating

Simran Raghani

“To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself.” ― Simone de Beauvoir

Food is dear to all our hearts. Whether it be a refreshing Pepperoni Pizza after a grueling day at work or a simple home cooked meal by your grandma, we all love food. It’s an integral part of our life and plays an important role in defining who we are. Different people have different food preferences and tastes, some may prefer Italian cuisine over Chinese, whereas some may find it difficult to eat outside their own cuisine. While it is normal to have a craving for food, erratic eating habits can be problematic. These varied eating habits are referred to as eating disorders and have become very common in today’s generation, and although some of them may be because of genetics, for the most part, it’s due to our obsession with a perfect body.

Some common types of eating disorders are as follows:

1) Anorexia: Anorexia is a psychological condition where people obsess about their weight and what they eat; if not treated properly, it can be life threatening. People suffering from Anorexia usually starve themselves and refuse to eat, they constantly fear about gaining weight and are often weigh less than their ideal body weight. Their desire to eat is suppressed by their fear of gaining weight and consuming extra calories. It reaches a level where the patient works out more than required if they gain a few pounds. Both men and women can develop Anorexia, but it is more common amongst females.

A few symptoms of Anorexia include:-

  • Extreme weight loss.

  • Fatigue.

  • Low blood pressure.

  • Exercising extensively.

  • Checking weight often

  • Eating food with less calories.

  • Not wanting to eat in public.

  • Lying about eating.

2) Bulimia: It is an eating disorder where people consume large quantities of food at one go. People with Bulimia are unhappy with their weight and resort to harmful measures to lose it. In this disorder, the individual has no control over their consumption and it leads to them feeling guilty and intentionally throwing up by forcing fingers down the throat. It is also marked by their desire to reduce weight through excessively exercising which makes them feel better. Bulimia can develop in early childhood or late adulthood, and like Anorexia, it is more common in females than males. It can have various complications like stomach ulcers, dental problems, irregular heartbeat, swelling of salivary glands due to excessive vomiting and heart attack in extreme cases.

A few symptoms of Bulimia include :-

  • Mood swings, guilt and anxiety.

  • Vomiting or using laxatives after overeating.

  • Digestion problems.

  • Using the washroom after every meal.

  • Exhaustion.

  • Changes in body weight.

3) Binge Eating disorder: Binge Eating Disorder is the most common type of Eating Disorder. Most of us overeat at times but people suffering from this disorder consume large amounts of food and are unable to stop themselves even if they are full. Unlike Bulimia, they do not forcefully vomit, instead they eat more. Any type of restriction of any food can result in another episode of binge eating. They consume these amounts even if they are not hungry. Binge Eating Disorder goes hand in hand with other psychological problems like depression and anxiety and can sometimes be the outcome of these psychological disorders. Any emotional or mental stress may trigger the individual to eat more. This disorder can cause health problems like high cholesterol levels and diabetes.

A few symptoms of Binge Eating disorder include:-

  • Eating large amounts over a short span of time.

  • Eating till extremely full.

  • Consuming a lot of food even when not hungry.

  • Hoarding of food.

  • Feeling stressed or anxious.

Causes of Eating disorders:

  1. Biological Factors:- Biological factors include genetics, hormonal imbalance and nutritional deficiencies. Eating Disorders tend to run in the family and it is known that if a parent suffers from an eating disorder, it is more likely that the child may also develop it. Studies also show that abnormalities in the activities of the hypothalamus and many different neurotransmitters in the brain can be responsible for developing an eating disorder.

  2. Psychological Factors:- Psychological factors play an important role in the development of eating Disorders. Individuals with an existing mental health problem, are vulnerable and are more likely to develop an eating disorder. Low self esteem, anger, loneliness can also lead to developing an eating disorder.

  3. Social Factors- The society we live in, glorifies being thin, which is the major reason why many teenagers develop eating disorders. Advertisements, movies and shows portray men and women in an unrealistic manner which many people feel is the only way to look good. They begin to measure their self worth with being thin and perfect.

  4. Life Events:- Life has its own highs and lows but sometimes these lows can be traumatising and can take a toll on the mental health of an individual. Major life events like bullying, being teased about one's weight, sexual assault and family problems can affect the individuals, and they may not be able to express their thoughts and emotions, thus they resort to food as their coping mechanism.

How to support someone who has eating disorder:

We are in the midst of a pandemic and things are really uncertain. We do not know what the future is going to look like and these our challenging times for our mental well being. But for people with eating disorders, this time is even worse. Individuals suffering from any type of eating disorder like to be in control of things, but they can’t do anything right now since nothing is in our hands. The lockdown makes it difficult to seek help and reach out to ones doctors and psychiatrists, this makes the patients even more restless and their condition might get worse. Unnecessary hoarding of food is also very concerning if the person is going through Binge Eating Disorder. It is difficult for people to control their binge eating if they don’t find the food anywhere, and when they see stock of food, there is a strong possibility that they consume everything in one go.

Living with an eating disorder is challenging and can affect various aspects of your life, but watching someone you love go through it and deteriorating their health is tough. Hence, it is essential for us to provide support and comfort to our friends and family members going through it. Here are a few ways in which you can help someone with an eating disorder:

  • We are so accustomed to giving advice to individuals with eating disorders that we forget that they might need someone to truly listen to them. Communicate openly and ask about the ways in which you can help the ones who are suffering.

  • Do not talk about weight, but rather talk about incorporating a healthy lifestyle.

  • Do not encourage dieting or unhealthy practices like using laxatives or vomiting after a meal.

  • Do not comment on their physical appearance, since people with eating disorders already have low self esteem, this might make them feel even more inferior and miserable.

  • Lastly, you can ask them to seek professional help where they can learn to cope with their feelings in a safe environment.

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