Sook Ning Chua wrote an article in 2020 for the International Journal of Eating Disorders titled, “Estimated prevalence of eating disorders in Singapore“. Along with her colleagues, she measured the prevalence of eating disorders in Singapore and reached a shocking conclusion that most of her sample screened positive for a current DSM-5 eating disorder. To her surprise, she found that of all the participants who screened positive for an eating disorder, only 1.6% reported being in treatment.
This article in 2020 was the first-ever study to officially assess the prevalence of eating disorders in Singapore since it is so understudied here. Eating disorders are complex and often misunderstood conditions that influence the lives of thousands. This is why this blog will focus on eating disorders and explore possible treatment options.
At its core, anorexia nervosa is defined by an overwhelming fear of gaining weight. This fear drives individuals to adopt strict eating restrictions, taking various forms like meal-skipping or an obsession with eating only “healthy” foods. Anorexia does not discriminate; it can affect people of any body size. The causes are multifaceted, involving biology, psychology, and social factors.
The consequences of anorexia are severe, often leading to physical health complications and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Those who have anorexia may not be aware of it or downplay their symptoms, making diagnosis challenging.
Bulimia nervosa is like a seesaw of overeating and guilt-ridden purging behaviours. Those with bulimia frequently consume large quantities of food and struggle to regain control. These binges are often shrouded in secrecy, unleashing waves of guilt and shame.
Purging, which follows a binge, takes different forms, such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, or laxative use. Dieting can trigger a destructive cycle, leading to a rollercoaster of restriction, bingeing, and purging.
While we are not entirely sure what causes bulimia, factors like genetics, biology, psychology, and societal pressures play a role. Contrary to belief, it can affect individuals of all body types, and weight gain is not a prerequisite of this disorder.
Frequent episodes of uncontrollable overeating mark binge-eating disorder. These secretive episodes happen at least once a week for three months, overwhelming individuals with guilt, shame, and a profound sense of losing control.
Unlike other eating disorders, the amount of food consumed is less significant than the feeling of losing control. It sparks a vicious cycle of restriction and overeating, potentially leading to weight gain. Genetics, biology, psychology, and dieting contribute to the causes of this disorder.
Risk factors include medical conditions, dieting, and traumatic experiences. Binge-eating disorder is associated with obesity, depression, anxiety, and self-harm, affecting people of all body types. However, people who binge eat do not always gain weight.
The treatment for eating disorders is tailored based on the severity of the disorder and the individual’s specific needs. The initial step in addressing any eating disorder involves consulting a healthcare expert. A team of professionals, including family members, a medical doctor, a mental health expert, and a registered dietitian, will be assembled to provide comprehensive support.
Psychological therapy is a crucial part of treating eating disorders. A professional will work with the individual to normalise eating patterns and achieve a healthy weight, explore healthy ways to cope with stressful situations and improve relationships and mood. Depending on one’s needs, the treatment may involve cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), family-based therapy, and group cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Eating disorders are not isolated conditions; they are deeply intertwined with an individual’s sense of self-worth, family dynamics, societal pressures, and cultural norms. One’s perception of their self-worth, often shaped during their formative years, can significantly influence their relationship with food and body image. Family of origin also plays a crucial role, as early experiences and relationships within the family can impact one’s emotional well-being and coping mechanisms. Societal and cultural factors, such as unrealistic beauty standards and glorifying thinness, can exacerbate these issues. Moreover, gender differences are evident in the prevalence and presentation of eating disorders, with societal expectations of body image often differing between genders. Recognising and addressing these complex intersections is vital in understanding and treating eating disorders comprehensively, as it allows individuals to heal physically, emotionally, and psychologically, fostering a more holistic path to recovery.
Eating disorders are intricate and often misunderstood conditions that cast a long shadow over the lives of those affected. Each disorder brings its own challenges, but they share the potential for devastating physical and mental consequences. The journey towards recovery is a complex one, but there is hope. Seeking help from healthcare professionals is the crucial first step. A multidisciplinary team, including medical experts, mental health professionals, and registered dietitians, can provide support. Psychological therapy, encompassing various approaches, plays a pivotal role in reclaiming a healthy relationship with food and body image.
Eating disorders are not battles to be fought alone. With awareness, understanding, and appropriate treatment, individuals can embark on a path toward recovery and a brighter, healthier future.
Chua, S.N. et al. (2020) ‘Estimated prevalence of eating disorders in Singapore’, International Journal of Eating Disorders, 54(1), pp. 7–18. doi:10.1002/eat.23440.
Eating disorders (no date) Mayo Clinic. Available at: https://careinfo.mayoclinic.org/mh-eating-disorders?mc_id=google&campaign=20459359096&geo=9062530&kw=eating+disorders&ad=668795152048&network=g&sitetarget=&adgroup=154067593124&extension=&target=kwd-10644491&matchtype=b&device=c&account=7470347919&placementsite=enterprise&gclid=Cj0KCQjwx5qoBhDyARIsAPbMagARrRe272UmEWCbYXdxq1SgfDq16yq-PpC-5Lb8o0O09A8o1PNP-MMaAuBfEALw_wcB (Accessed: 18 September 2023).
Eating Disorder Treatment & Eating Disorder Therapies (31.08.2023) Eating Disorder Hope. Available at: https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/treatment-for-eating-disorders/types-of-treatment(Accessed: 18 September 2023).
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