By Stephanie Simons,
Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire
We all know how important food is for our health. Eating a balanced diet can boost our energy, support our movement and maintain our vital systems. However, our relationship with food is complex and, for many, this relationship can become harmful – and even life-threatening.
In the U.S., more than 30 million people suffer from eating disorders and one person dies every 62 minutes as a direct result. These disorders affect people of all ages and genders and can have hugely detrimental consequences for the body and mind.
Eating disorders manifest in different ways. Anorexia (full name anorexia nervosa) is generally defined as the need to keep your weight as low as possible through extreme dieting and/or excessive exercise. Bulimia, in contrast, involves eating significant amounts of food but then vomiting or taking laxatives to prevent weight gain. Others suffer from Binge Eating Disorder (BED), in which they lose control of their eating and consume far more than their body needs, whilst others’ experiences do not fall into any of these categories at all.
These conditions, while psychological at root, have serious consequences for the body. When it doesn’t receive enough calories each day, the body begins to break down muscle to provide fuel, including the most important muscle – the heart. With less fuel to pump blood and fewer cells to pump with, blood pressure plummets, thus increasing the risk of heart failure. Overeating is equally damaging, as excess weight can lead to high blood pressure, which also damages the heart and increases the risk of stroke and heart failure.
The gastrointestinal system in particular, is affected, too, as starvation or bingeing interferes with the digestion of nutrients and often leads to constipation, bloating and, in more serious cases, the rupture of the stomach. Deprived of energy, the brain can also suffer critical damage.
So how can you tell if you, or someone in our lives, is suffering from an eating disorder? While we all try to shed (or gain) a few pounds from time to time, an eating disorder is a serious mental illness, resulting in a severe obsession with food. Tell-tale signs include constant anxiety about body size and shape, excessive exercise, strict food habits and restrictions, and/or severe mood swings. Physical symptoms such as dizziness, extreme weight loss or gain, digestive issues and, the slowing or ceasing of periods (for women and girls) are also key indicators.
As with many other mental illnesses, it can be difficult to recognise an eating disorder and know how to seek help. However, the sooner eating disorders are treated – the better. The longer the condition has to manifest, the harder it is to treat, and the more long term damage is inflicted on the body.
Treating eating disorders is a complex process, tailored to each individual. One or several mental health professionals provide therapy to address the psychological illness, while patients also work with a nutritional expert to help rebuild their diet, and other medical professionals who treat any physical symptoms that have arisen. Friends and family also play a key role, helping to provide emotional and practical support in helping patients return to both mental and physical health.
When recovering from an eating disorder, supplements can aid the body’s recovery. Potassium and zinc tablets like those made by Nature’s Bounty or Nature’s Truth can help reignite appetite and taste, while Vitamin B12 supplements such as Nature’s Bounty B-12 or B-Complex help address fatigue and anxiety. Relaxing products such as Olly Stress formula or few drops of Nature’s Truth or Aura Cacia Lavender Oil inhaled or in the bath can also help ease stress during this difficult time.
If you’re worried that you, or someone you know, is suffering from an eating disorder, please do seek medical advice as soon as possible. Your pharmacist or GP can help support you in either seeking help yourself or broaching the subject with your loved one. The important thing to remember is that no one is at fault: eating disorders are an illness like any other and there is no shame in needing help in order to recover.
For more information or for immediate advice, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association.
Stephanie Simons is the head pharmacist at Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and has been practicing for over 20 years. She is a registered pharmacist with the Bermuda Pharmacy Council and is a member of the Bermuda Pharmaceutical Association.