By: Jane Langille
We live in a world where there is an unfortunate preoccupation with body image. At any given time, 70 per cent of women are dieting.1 Eating disorders affect ten times more women than men.2 For some women, the preoccupation can become a dangerous eating disorder as they try to cope with deeper mental health problems about lack of control, identity, poor self-esteem or feelings of anger, depression, or loneliness. Of all mental illnesses, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate, as 10-20 per cent of those who suffer eventually die from complications.1
The three main eating disorders1 are:
- Anorexia nervosa. Extreme food reduction leads to severe weight loss. Women with this disorder refuse to maintain a normal body weight, have an unreasonable fear of becoming obese, and their fear does not decrease even when they lose weight. The severe malnutrition affects most major organs in the body, and can lead to the absence of regular menstrual cycles, osteoporosis, major depression and irregular heartbeat. Unfortunately, suicide attempts happen in about 20-30 per cent of those with the disorder.
- Bulimia nervosa. These women may have a normal body weight, but they go through periods of uncontrolled binge eating followed by purging, either by vomiting or by abusing laxatives, diet pills, enemas or diuretics.
- Binge-eating disorder. Women experience periods of uncontrolled binge eating, often in secret, triggered by chronic dieting or periods of fasting.
The sooner women get help, the sooner they benefit from treatment. You can’t force someone you care about to get help, but you can help her understand that there is no shame in asking for help from her family doctor as a starting point.
Both physiological and psychological factors underlying the disease need to be addressed for effective treatment. In the early stages of treatment, the focus is on physiological factors, to normalize behaviours about eating, weight management and physical health. Therapy continues with psychological counselling, to address the underlying factors that led to self-harming behaviours.
- The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) is a non-profit organization that provides information about treatment services and resources across Canada.
- Call NEDIC’s toll free helpline from across Canada at 1-866-NEDIC-20 (1-866-633-4220) or in Toronto/GTA at 416-340-4156. The phone line is staffed from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday, Eastern Standard Time.
- Statistics Canada: Eating Disorders
- Moving From Self-Harm to Self-Care, by Christine M.A. Courbasson, Ph.D.