Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders

Among the countless damages caused by the pandemic - on all fronts - over the past 2 years, there has also been an exponential increase in cases of eating disorders (EDs).

Anorexia and bulimia, but not only. EDs are complex pathologies characterized by dysfunctional eating behavior, associated with obsessive weight control (anorexia, bulimia) or altered perception of body image or uncontrolled food intake (Binge Eating Disorder, i.e., uncontrolled eating disorder).

EDs involve about 3.5 million Italians, 70% of whom are adolescents and preadolescents. The Italian Society for the Study of Eating Disorders declares that during the pandemic there has been a 30% increase in new cases and a 50% increase in requests for initial visits for EDs. The other very worrying data is that the average age of onset has dropped to 12 years (until a few years ago it was 15 years). It is estimated that there are 8,500 new cases every year, with a clear prevalence of women, accounting for 90% of cases.

The causes and predisposing factors that intervene in the development of these disorders are both genetic and biological, but also familial and psychosocial. So much so that familiarity with depression or negative emotional states, low self-esteem and perfectionism or even traumatic or adverse events (such as the closure caused by Covid) can favor the onset of EDs.

A recent Australian study, for example, showed that young people who spend a lot of time on Instagram and similar apps develop body image problems and disturbed behaviors. Among these behaviors, the most common are those of subjecting oneself to rigorous physical exercises or skipping meals to lose weight or prevent weight gain. In particular, it was found that the number of social media accounts and the amount of time spent using them are associated with a greater likelihood of developing disordered eating thoughts and behaviors.

In the past 2 years, forced staying at home and social isolation has encouraged the use of social media especially among adolescents and young people: the result, together with other problems, has been aberrant even in terms of eating behavior. The resulting psychological and behavioral effects range from increased attention (or even obsession) with weight, to fear of gaining weight, to spasmodic control of calories or, conversely, to total loss of dietary rules to uncontrolled eating.

Last December, the Ministry of Health established a fund of 25 million euros, distributed over two years 2022 and 2023, to combat Eating and Nutrition Disorders. Specialized centers for the treatment of EDs are present on the territory, but some regions are still lacking in this field.

These are complex disorders, serious in some cases, for which it is necessary to turn to dedicated centers with a multidisciplinary staff, where psychiatrists, psychotherapists, nutritionists, endocrinologists work together with shared strategies.

The alarm bells should never be underestimated:

  • Feeling of early fullness, eating very slowly
  • Skipping meals, systematic and progressive elimination of foods or food groups
  • Continuous calorie counting
  • Eating continuously, combining sweet and salty
  • Excessive workouts and compensatory physical activity
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of interests
  • Depressive attitudes, negative thoughts
  • Increased obsessive weight control (weighing oneself every day, multiple times a day)

So if in the family you notice one or more critical issues in the eating behavior of adolescents or young subjects, you must act immediately, without procrastinating. An attentive and sensitive eye of a parent may not be sufficient to address the problem.

Welcoming dialogue with a family member or another reference figure (friend, teacher, etc.) is certainly a starting point, but turning to an expert - nutritionist and/or psychologist - becomes necessary for a careful and effective evaluation.

Eating Disorder Centers in Italy Toll-Free Number: 800 724147

Toll-Free Number S.O.S. Eating Disorders: 800 180969

Dr. Concetta Mauriello

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday January February March April May June July August September October November December