By Huyen Hou, Wood’s Homes Nurse – Team Leader
At Wood’s Homes, the safety of the youth and families we serve is our top priority. We understand that, before we can address a mental health issue, our clients need to feel safe with us, and free from the pressures/root causes of their mental health struggles and/or at-risk behaviours. As such, we understand there are many more pressures felt by youth than just those from within the home.
Today, societal pressures around physical appearance can very easily impact youth at the palm of their hands. With social media, movies, television and other forms of entertainment at their fingertips, the pressure to look a certain way can sometimes overwhelm.
We are aware of this in some of the youth we serve and do what we can to help alleviate these stresses. Still we see clients struggle. In the LGBTQ2S community, a community we proudly work with, there is growing research on the higher-than-average eating disorder rates; in the youth and adolescent community as a whole, an impressionable age and our largest client group, it’s no secret that fitting in and physical appearance can go hand in hand.
Needless to say, these pressures can sometimes result in eating disorders, unhealthy diets and mental health struggles compounded by infinite other stresses. With this, we hope to offer some clarity around these issues.
What are eating disorders?
Simply put, eating disorders are serious disturbances in eating behaviour and weight regulation, and can have a wide range of adverse psychological, physical and social consequences.
Eating disorders appear frequently during teenage years and young adulthood, but may also develop during childhood or later in life. Such disorders can affect all genders and diversities, despite being commonly perceived as affecting females only; however, rates among young women and girls are two-and-a-half times greater than men and boys.
What are the different types of eating disorders?
- Anorexia nervosa – People living with anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight (even when they are clearly underweight) and become obsessed with weight control, weighing themselves repeatedly, portioning food carefully and eating very small quantities of certain foods. Some people with anorexia nervosa may also engage in binge eating (followed by extreme dieting), excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting, etc.
- Bulimia nervosa – People living with bulimia nervosa have frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food, followed by behaviour that compensates for the overeating (e.g. forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives/diuretics, fasting and excessive exercise). Unlike anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia nervosa typically maintain a ‘healthy’ weight; however, they often fear gaining weight or desperately want to lose weight.
- Binge-eating disorder – People with binge-eating disorder lose control over their eating. Unlike bulimia nervosa, periods of binge eating are not followed by compensatory behaviors like purging, excessive exercise or fasting; as a result, people with binge-eating disorder often are overweight or obese.
How are eating disorders treated?
Typical treatment goals include restoring adequate nutrition, bringing weight to a healthy level, reducing excessive exercise, and stopping binging and purging behaviors. Specific forms of psychotherapy have been shown to be useful for treating specific eating disorders.
Some people also may need to be hospitalized to treat problems caused by malnutrition or to ensure they eat enough if they are very underweight. Complete recovery is possible.
What is being done to better understand and treat eating disorders?
Researchers have found that eating disorders are caused by a complex interaction of genetic, biological, psychological and social factors, but many questions remain unanswered. Researchers are seeking to better understand risk factors and identify biological markers, as well as develop specific psychotherapies and medications to control eating behaviour.
Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends, family and community – let’s work together!