Eating disorders are common in women of childbearing age and can have serious health consequences for both the mother and child. They can occur before or during pregnancy and also in the postpartum period. The exact cause of eating disorders is not known and may be a combination of genetic, social/cultural, and other factors.
To me, it is not a surprise that eating disorders occur in women during pregnancy and postpartum. The physical changes can be overwhelming. So much that happens is out of the woman’s control which affects her emotionally as well. The rapid weight gain and loss over this timeframe is a lot to handle in itself, much less the stretch marks, C-section scars, and other physical changes (which often carry emotional burdens with them as well.
Eating disorders are usually classified into the following four types:
Anorexia Nervosa - Anorexia is perhaps the most well-known eating disorder. Symptoms include unhealthy weight loss, obsession with thinness, and severely restricted eating.
Bulimia Nervosa - This disorder is characterized by episodes of binging (eating very large amounts of food) and then purging (trying to get rid of the food by vomiting or using laxatives, for example). Individuals with bulimia may have a normal weight.
Binge Eating Disorder - Individuals with binge eating disorder often eat very large amounts of food for either emotional reasons or in response to a period of restricted eating. Unlike people with bulimia, they do not purge.
Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (ED-NOS) - This category covers women who have symptoms of eating disorders but do not meet the criteria necessary to be diagnosed with one of the above disorders.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has an eating disorder, a healthcare professional can direct you to resources and appropriate resources. Treatment programs are usually multidisciplinary and may include group, individual, and family therapy, nutritional counselling, and medical evaluation. Depending on the severity of the eating disorder, women may receive treatment as either inpatients (in a hospital or other centre) or as outpatients (while living in the community). Eating disorders are not self-limiting (i.e. they do not go away on their own) and thus require effective treatment for recovery to occur.
References, links, and further reading:
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