The relationship between our bodies and the food we consume can be intricate and sometimes challenging to understand. Two aspects that significantly impact our dietary choices and overall well-being are food allergies/ Food intolerances and eating disorders.
These two different yet interconnected subjects shed light on the balance between physical health and psychological and emotional well-being.
Here we look at the complexities of eating disorders and the challenges individuals face with food allergies/intolerances. This allows us to gain a deeper understanding of the unique struggles they face when it comes to food and nutrition.
What Are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders incorporate a wide range of psychological disorders that lead to the development of unhealthy eating patterns. These disorders often originate from an intense obsession with food, body weight, or body shape. According to data, around 28 million individuals in the US suffer from some eating disorder.
The different types of eating disorders include:
- Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image, leading to extreme calorie restriction and significant weight loss.
- Bulimia nervosa: The patient goes through recurrent episodes of binge eating in this disorder. These episodes are followed by compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, or the misuse of laxatives or diuretics.
- Pica: An eating disorder in which the person persistently consumes non-food substances, such as dirt, chalk, or hair.
- Binge eating disorder: In this disorder, the person will have recurrent episodes of consuming large amounts of food within a short period. It is also accompanied by a lack of control, distress or guilt, etc.
- Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID): This disorder makes the person avoid or distract certain foods or food groups based on sensory issues.
- Rumination disorder: In this disorder, the person regurgitates the food. These bouts are followed by re-chewing, re-swallowing, or spitting it out. This behavior is unrelated to gastrointestinal or medical conditions.
When left untreated, eating disorders can have severe health repercussions and, in extreme cases, can lead to fatality. Remarkably, eating disorders rank among the most life-threatening mental illnesses, except opioid overdose.
What Are Food Allergies and Intolerances?
When your immune system exhibits an abnormal response to a particular food or beverage, it is called a food allergy. As per the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), approximately 15 million Americans are believed to be affected by food allergies, with children being more susceptible. In the United States, it is estimated that approximately 1 in every 13 children live with food allergies.
The symptoms of a food allergy can manifest in various ways, affecting the skin, gastrointestinal tract, and respiratory or cardiovascular systems. While numerous foods can act as allergens, specific foods are more likely to trigger an allergic reaction than others.
On the other hand, food intolerances do not involve the immune system but are caused by the body’s inability to digest or metabolize specific food components properly.
The most well-known food intolerance is lactose intolerance, which occurs due to insufficient levels of the enzyme lactase required to break down lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy products. Around 36 % of the population in the United States suffers from lactose intolerance.
Other common intolerances include gluten intolerance (celiac disease), sensitivity to food additives (such as sulfites or monosodium glutamate), and histamine intolerance.
Symptoms Of Eating Disorders And Food Allergies/Intolerances
Learning the signs and symptoms of both food allergies and eating disorders are extremely important. Here we are going to talk about it.
The signs of an eating disorder can vary depending on the specific type, but they all involve an intense fixation on food and eating and weight-related concerns. This overall obsession with food and weight can often lead to difficulty focusing on other areas of life.
Eating disorder signs include significant weight loss, anxiety about eating in public, constant preoccupation with weight and food, physical discomfort, avoidance of mealtime, fear of gaining weight, restrictive eating, excessive exercise, binge eating followed by purging, rigid food rituals, and missed periods. Physical signs include stomach cramps, difficulty concentrating, abnormal lab results, dizziness, coldness, sleep irregularities, menstrual irregularities, calluses on fingers, dry skin, weak nails, thinning hair, muscle weakness, delayed wound healing, and weakened immune function.
Mild food allergy symptoms may include sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, itchy and watery eyes, swelling, rash, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.
Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) can involve difficulty breathing, including wheezing, lips, tongue, or throat swelling, hives (an itchy, raised rash), dizziness or faintness, and nausea or vomiting.
Treatment For Eating Disorders and Food Intolerances/Allergies
Treatment options for eating disorders include psychotherapy (individual, group, or family), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to address disordered behaviors, medication (such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers) for the eating disorder and concurrent conditions, and nutritional counseling with a dietitian for proper nutrition and healthy eating habits, including weight restoration or management. Combining nutritional therapy with cognitive therapy has shown promising results as well.
Regarding food allergies, avoiding the allergen that causes them is often best. Individuals with food allergies should exercise caution while purchasing food from supermarkets or dining at restaurants to ensure no traces of the allergen present.
For instance, if you have gluten intolerance, it is suggested that you stay away from gluten altogether.
In the case of mild symptoms, treatment may not be necessary, or an over-the-counter antihistamine can be used to alleviate the symptoms.
If the allergic reactions are severe, a doctor might prescribe steroid medications. It is a similar case with food intolerances.
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