Disordered eating is a difficult issue with many complex factors. People of all ages may exhibit some kind of disordered eating.
Behavioral health providers and families should take care to avoid stereotypes and be aware of how different types of disordered eating may appear in a wide range of clients. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to disordered eating.
Eating disorders don’t always come from body-image issues.
Disordered eating often arises from body-image and weight concerns. However, one serious form of disordered eating, known as avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), is not associated with these fears.
Often seen in young children, ARFID may involve a lack of interest in or avoidance of food due to concerns like a fear of choking or aversion to a food’s texture. It can lead to serious weight loss, lack of growth, nutritional deficiency, and reduced functioning.
In a new study published online in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers found a strong genetic component to ARFID. The authors studied nearly 17,000 pairs of twins in Sweden born between 1992 and 2010, of whom 682 were identified as developing ARFID. Analysis suggested that genetics may account for 79 percent of the risk of ARFID.
Many people don’t fit the prevailing stereotype.
While many teen girls struggle with body image and eating disorders, these concerns can emerge in either sex, at any age.
Teenage boys often struggle with body-image fears, particularly a condition known as muscle dysmorphia, or “bigorexia.” This involves a preoccupation with muscle size and concerns about being skinny or weak. It can lead to imbalanced eating, excessive exercise, feelings of shame, or use of steroids.
One study published in Body Image found that one in four adolescent males in Canada were at risk of muscle dysmorphia. While treatment is possible, males are less likely to see help for disordered eating than females due to stigma.
Women may struggle with body image and disordered eating during menopause. The North American Menopause Society reported in a press release (PDF) that the prevalence of an eating disorder for women over age 40 is about 3.5 percent. However, the prevalence of isolated symptoms may be as high as 29.3 percent.
Older women often display disordered or potentially risky eating behaviors, such as caloric restrictions, use of diet pills, and skipping meals. Aging, reduced physical activity, chronic health conditions, and many other factors can contribute to body dissatisfaction during and after menopause.
Modern technology can encourage disordered eating behaviors.
Unfortunately, technology has made it easier to develop or encourage disordered eating. For example, one study of adolescents in Canada found that frequent use of social media and video and instant messaging is associated with eating disorder symptoms in both girls and boys.
Some people with eating disorders are going online to obtain weight-loss medications usually prescribed for diabetes, according to the Wall Street Journal. Digital health startups are working to supply the demand for these drugs, sometimes advertising and prescribing them to people who are not overweight. Health professionals warn against inappropriate use of these drugs, not only because it could contribute to eating disorders, but because it could lead to shortages.
Disordered eating is a complex behavioral health concern that can be difficult to treat. The right can help ensure your practice provides the most effective options to your behavioral health clients.