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Addiction and Eating Disorders: What is the Connection?

The term “eating disorder” is used to refer to a wide variety of different unhealthy behaviors when it comes to food consumption and eating. Similar to addiction, an eating disorder involves compulsive, self-destructive behavior that puts a person’s health and well-being at risk. But with a number of people showing signs of both addiction and eating disorders, could it be that there’s some sort of correlation?

When we consider mental and emotional health disorders, many of us immediately gravitate to major depression, bipolar disorder, and other common, well-known disorders. However, there are a wide variety of other disorders, each of which reflect a unique combination of potential causes of effects.

An eating disorder is one type of mental health disorder that is characterized by unhealthy, maladaptive, or self-harming eating behaviors. More often than not, an eating disorder originates as an unhealthy perspective on food. Additionally, many individuals who suffer from eating disorders have some form of body dysmorphia, which reflect an inaccurate or warped view of their physical characteristics and appearance. A common example of this is when a person has unrealistic weight expectations for himself or herself, restricting his or her food intake and inadvertently developing an eating disorder known as anorexia nervosa.

Much like mental and emotional health disorders in general, there are actually a number of different eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia. The different types of eating disorders represent the different types of food consumption and eating habits that people develop and which are harmful to their mental and physical health. For example, anorexia nervosa is when a person restricts his or her food intake to such a degree that he or she only gets the most minimal amounts of essential vitamins and nutrients; by comparison, bulimia is a type of eating disorder that involves “purging,” or vomiting, one’s meal after eating, preventing the body from digesting the food and processing the calories, carbohydrates, protein, and vitamins contained in the food.

As mentioned above, there are a number of different eating disorders, and each is characterized by a specific type of harmful eating behavior; however, there are certain signs and symptoms that tend to be consistent across many types of eating disorders.

Individuals who suffer from eating disorders tend to be somewhat obsessive about food. To others, it seems like they’re fixated on the nutritional value of the food they consume, particularly noting the amounts of calories, carbohydrates, and fat in food items. Additionally, individuals with eating disorders tend to be quite obsessive about dieting. Whether they talk about dieting frequently or seem to constantly be on a very strict diet, dieting seems to be a daily constant.

Other common behaviors exhibited by people who are suffering from eating disorders include not wanting to eat in public and hiding food items around their homes or bedrooms. It’s also common for people with eating disorders to “binge” food in private; in other words, they eat excessively large amounts of food in a single sitting, either regularly or on occasion. As well, individuals suffering from bulimia might make frequent trips to the restroom so they can purge their meals. It’s also common for individuals with eating disorders to be somewhat obsessive about exercising, which they use in an effort to burn most or all of the calories they consume so as to maintain or lose weight. Finally, people with eating disorders are often fixated on their weight.

The specific effects — including the long-term health effects — of an eating disorder can vary depending on the eating disorder in question. However, generally those who suffer from eating disorders don’t receive the nourishment their bodies need for optimal health and development. Depending on the age of the individual — i.e. whether the person is an adolescent (who is still developing mentally and physically) or an adult — lack of proper nutrition can be devastating to personal development, resulting in stunted growth, decreased cognitive abilities, mood swings, and numerous other effects.

Besides the greater implications of eating disorders, a person with an eating disorder risks inflicting profound damage to his or her body. Particularly with an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa where the individual restricts his or her food intake, the body resorts to feeding on its own fat stores and, once those stores have been depleted, even its own musculature and bodily organs. This can eventually result in organ failure as the body begins to shut down, putting the individual’s life at serious risk.

Much like other mental health disorders have overlapping symptoms and effects, there are certain characteristics that eating disorders and addiction share, suggesting some sort of correlation. In fact, a number of researchers have begun to explore whether there’s a relationship between eating disorders and addiction.

Both eating disorders and addiction entail compulsive, habitual behavior. With an eating disorder, a person habitually limits his or her food consumption or otherwise eats in a way that’s harmful so as to gain more control over weight and physical appearance. Similarly, addiction entails habitual or compulsive behavior in the form of chronic substance abuse. Additionally, people who have suffered from substance abuse problems in the past sometimes exhibit a behavioral phenomenon called replacement; basically, over the course of his or her recovery, the individual inadvertently replaces the substance to which he or she was addicted with some other type of compulsion, whether it’s another substance or a different type of behavior altogether. Thus, it’s not uncommon for individuals who have a history of substance abuse and addiction to turn to food for comfort as a form of replacement for the substance abuse, inadvertently developing an eating disorder in the process.

Fortunately, both eating disorders and addiction are mental health disorders that can be treated. With a high-quality mental health support system, any individual suffering from an eating disorder and/or an addiction can find the health needed to regain his or her health and independence. Whether you’re exploring treatment options for yourself or a loved one, Just Believe Recovery in Port Saint Lucie, FL, is an ideal recovery destination for all your mental health needs. For more information about how we treat eating disorders and addiction, call Just Believe Recovery today at 877-978-1208

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