Youth Ambassador Series: Exploring Different Mental Health Disorders – Eating Disorders

As part of NAMI Eastside’s Youth Ambassador program, Jinwoo “Antonio” Lee is exploring the eight different mental health disorders defined by the World Health Organization (WHO).

About Eating Disorders

NAMI Eastside Youth Ambassador Jinwoo “Antonio” Lee

The sixth mental disorder that WHO has classified is eating disorders. Some may wonder how this is a mental issue, and the term indeed sounds more like it is a physical issue. However, eating disorders are complex physical and mental conditions because they include cognition based on eating behaviors. According to statistics, 9% of Americans will suffer from an eating disorder during their lifetime, so this is not a trivial disease that can be overlooked. What are the symptoms and risk factors of eating disorders? What are the types of eating disorders? How can it be treated or prevented? 

What are the possible causes of eating disorders? Although the causes of eating disorders are not explicitly discovered, genetics are the most known cause. The disorder can pass over generations, and people whose family members have eating disorders have a higher risk of developing eating disorders, too. Furthermore, external causes can pose a high risk of people having an eating disorder. Relationship difficulties, unreal body image from social media, and high levels of stress or anxiety can cause people to develop symptoms of eating disorders.

What are the types of eating disorders? Anorexia nervosa, the most well-known eating disorder, involves restricted eating patterns due to fear of gaining weight. One who has a relentless pursuit of thinness and aspires to a “perfect” body image can lead to dissatisfaction with their own body image, which can cause anorexia nervosa. Bulimia nervosa, another well-known eating disorder, involves eating a normal or unusually large amount of food in a short amount of time, followed by purging that food afterward. Lastly, binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia nervosa, but it is prominent among adolescents. People with binge eating disorder typically lose control of eating large amounts of food.

How can we prevent eating disorders and treat them? Most people do not seek help when they feel something is wrong with their eating schedule, but they feel guilt or shame for accepting that they might have a disorder. Hence, if you observe your friends, family members, or loved ones showing attitudes such as skipping meals, keeping their eating a secret, or purposefully vomiting, urge them to talk to the health care provider. Professional psychiatrists or psychologists are experts who can diagnose and provide treatments for mental disorders.

How do eating disorders affect youth? In the United States, 10 in 100 young women suffer from an eating disorder, and its statistics are increasing each year. Approximately 5% of young men suffer from eating disorders. What components in our society are contributing to those alarming statistics? In global social media platforms, “pro-eating disorder” content is increasing, which exhibits unrealistic body image, refusal of eating as a lifestyle choice, and appreciating self-harm behaviors. As teens increasingly spend a lot of time on social media, they are easily exposed to unrealistic content, which is a serious problem. Attention must be paid to preventing the exposure of harmful content to teenagers and adolescents.