Nutrition is an important aspect of your overall health. Without good nutrition, you put yourself at risk of developing a series of health problems. When it comes to nutrition and mental health, eating disorders can also occur – for example, bulimia and anorexia – which often co-occur together with mental illness’ such as anxiety, depression and OCD.

Individuals who suffer from these and other types of eating disorders often have negative thoughts about body image. Some of this, as mentioned, is due to mental illness, while things we see in the media – i.e. entertainment magazines, award shows, etc. – can also distort how we think and feel about body image and what the “perfect” body should look like. The way body image is portrayed in the media can often have a negative effect on individuals – especially young women; although men can develop eating disorders, too.

If weight is someone’s primary focus in life, this is an indicator that they may be struggling with an eating disorder or at risk of developing an eating disorder. They will often be preoccupied with what they eat, how much they eat, how many calories they consume, how much they exercise, and what they weigh. Someone with an eating disorder may also be secretive and/or lie about what they eat or feel guilty when they do eat.

The most common eating disorder is anorexia – which occurs as a result of food avoidance. Individuals with anorexia will often appear thin and gaunt. As a result of long-term anorexia, the body goes into starvation mode, which can lead to things like low blood pressure, decreased body temperature, and irregular menstrual cycles. Anorexia can also be fatal. On the contrary, bulimia is another type of eating disorder; though unlike anorexia individuals with bulimia will generally have a repeat pattern of binge eating, followed by vigorous exercise, binge eating, more exercise, and so forth. Because of this pattern, bulimia is often easier to hide from others in comparison to anorexia. However, there are some signs to watch for which include acid reflux, sore throat, dental problems, and dehydration due to vomiting – as individuals with bulimia will also purge their food. Bulimia can cause complications such as gastric ruptures and cardiac problems, which can also be fatal.

As mentioned, eating disorders are generally a sign that there is some type of a underlying issue going on with the patient – such as a psychological disturbance. A psychological disturbance could be anything from depression and anxiety, to trauma. In order to treat the eating disorder, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician from Vancouver, says it’s crucial to treat the underlying problem. In some cases individuals may need to be prescribed medication, be referred to outpatient counselling, as well as be referred to a dietitian or nutritionist to help them regain healthy eating habits.