Eating Disorders You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
American culture seems obsessed with dieting. According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 70% of Americans over the age of 20 are overweight, including 35% that are considered obese. In kids and teens, it’s 17%. Meanwhile, the cultural ideal is to be fit, thin, and trim. The quest for body perfection has created a U.S. weight loss industry that was estimated to be worth $68.2 billion in 2017. In 2018, the fitness industry topped $30 billion.
While 45 million Americans go on a diet every year and 54 million Americans paid for gym memberships last year, the sad reality is that most diets fail and most people quit their gym within months. For those who want to be slimmer and more fit, it is very discouraging. It’s not surprising that according to the National Eating Disorder Association, in the USA up to 30 million people of all genders develop eating disorders.
Social media and news articles have brought eating disorders, and specifically anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating, into public and professional awareness. But there are many ways that people engage in disordered eating. You may not be aware that your own eating habits and behaviors or those of someone you love fall into one of the following classifications. Do realize that, as is true of many classification systems, people don’t necessarily fit neatly into one disorder. Often symptoms of more than one overlap. Brief case examples are provided as illustrations.
Eating Disorders You May Never Have Heard Of:
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): This is characterized by difficulty tolerating foods due to sensory issues (texture or smell or appearance) or past negative experiences with it.
Lidia was referred to me for her OCD, not for an eating disorder. But when asked specifically about symptoms, she admitted she would only eat seeds and raw fruits and vegetables. She said she couldn’t stand the texture of anything that is cooked.
Night Eating Syndrome is characterized by eating 25% or more of calories after the usual dinner time. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Night Eating Syndrome affects an estimated 1.5% of the population, It is unlike Binge Eating because the amount of food eaten may not be excessive and the person doesn’t necessarily feel out of control. Often there is shame and embarrassment that any progress made through self-denial during the day is undone at night.
Moderately overweight, Char says she has found that she can control her weight by not eating during the day. After a breakfast of coffee, she allows herself only a salad for dinner. But often she wakes up ravenous during the night and heads to the fridge. She says that this started when her parents were overconcerned about what she ate. She learned that she could look like she was following a diet but then eat secretly at night.
Orthorexia: People with orthorexia are intensely focused on eating only “pure” — or what they consider to be healthy — food. Often they would prefer to go without eating at all rather than eat anything they consider to be too processed, grown incorrectly, or dangerous to their health. They have come to the erroneous conclusion that their body is somehow “toxic.” They resist accepting the fact that the human body is designed to detoxify itself. They therefore go to extreme measures to get rid of perceived poisons in their systems.