A new European study has found that disordered eating can have a long-term negative effect on health, such as higher body weight and lower psychological well-being, leading to researchers to emphasize the need for earlier recognition and treatment in order to avoid these negative consequences later in life.
Carried out by the University of Helsinki in Finland, the study looked into long-term effects of disordered eating, a common problem among young adults which is still poorly understood.
Disordered eating has various symptoms, such as arbitrarily deciding to eat when hungry or full, regardless of how you are feeling; weighing yourself constantly; or drinking non-caloric drinks to keep from feeling hungry, explained Ulla Kärkkäinen, one of the study's researchers and an authorized nutritionist. Disordered eating also includes meticulously planning each meal long into the future, counting calories and weighing foods, following an excessively strict diet, or cutting certain foods from the diet claiming health or ethical reasons when the real motivation is weight loss.
To look at its health consequences, the team of researchers used data from the extensive FinnTwin 16 study, including more than 4,900 young Finnish men and women.
The participants were asked to answer questionnaires on their eating behavior, weight, health and psychological wellbeing at age 24 and again, ten years later at age 34.
The team found that disordered eating at age 24 was linked with higher body weight, larger waist circumference, and lower psychological well-being in both sexes, and a lower self-evaluation of general health in men ten years later.
"Previous research has established that low psychological wellbeing and a poor self-evaluation of health are predictors of higher susceptibility to physical illness and mortality," commented Kärkkäinen.
"Disordered eating is often seen as harmless as it is so common. However, it seems that disordered eating may have far-reaching negative effects on the general health and wellbeing of young adults. Even if the symptoms do not constitute a clinical eating disorder, early recognition and treatment is important, also for men."
The results can be found published online in the journal European Eating Disorders Review.