Do you have an eating disorder?

Although eating disorders can affect people of any age at any life stage, they’re most common in adolescents and young women. / Net photo

The term ‘eating disorder’ is regarded by many as overindulging. This, however, according to experts, is not the case; there are many eating habits considered disorders that people are not aware of.

They say eating disorders describe illnesses that are characterised by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight or shape.

According to Dr Charles Sindabimenya, a specialist in internal medicine at Doctors Plaza in Kimironko, eating disturbances may include inadequate or excessive food intake; which can ultimately damage an individual’s well-being.

He notes that in today’s lifestyle, culture and beliefs, some people see eating disorders as phases, fads or lifestyle choices, but in the real sense, they’re actually serious mental disorders that need to be worked on urgently.

The medic goes on to add that these eating disorders are capable of affecting people physically, psychologically and socially and more importantly, they can have life-threatening consequences.

Dr Sindabimenya reveals that to be able to identify that one is suffering from an eating disorder; there are specific signs that an individual portrays or shows.

These, he says, include vomiting or over-exercising, chronic dieting even if one is underweight, constant weight fluctuations, obsession with calories and fat contents of food, switching between periods of overeating and fasting, as well as depression.


Private Kamanzi, a dietician/nutritionist at Amazon Nutrition Cabinet, a clinic in Kigali, says eating disorders are a range of conditions expressed through abnormal or disturbed eating habits.

These, he says, generally stem from an obsession with food, body weight or body shape of which in most cases often result in serious health consequences.

In fact, Kamanzi points out that in some cases, eating disorders can even result in death.

He, however, adds that although eating disorders can affect people of any age at any life stage, they’re most common in adolescents and young women.

Kamanzi explains that eating disorders can be due to a variety of factors.

For instance, he says, this includes personality traits that are often linked to a higher risk of developing an eating disorder.

Other potential causes, he says, is the pressure to be thin, especially for young girls and even childbearing women, who perceive beauty as thinness.

Some studies also suggest that differences in brain structure and biology may also play a role in the development of eating disorders.

In particular, levels of the brain messengers’ serotonin and dopamine may be factors, according to the studies.


Experts say the most common forms of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, which affect both men and women.


According to Dr Sindabimenya, this is a common eating disorder that he routinely comes across in his line of duty. He explains that people with this kind of eating disorder tend to limit their food intake intentionally.

He says, these people always have an intense fear of gaining weight even when they are severely underweight.

“It generally develops during adolescence or young adulthood and tends to affect more women than men. They generally view themselves as overweight, even if they’re dangerously underweight. They tend to constantly monitor their weight, avoid eating certain types of foods and severely restrict their calories,” he observes.

He adds that people with this disorder can be identified through signs such as being considerably underweight compared to people of similar age and height, have very restricted eating patterns, an intense fear of gaining weight or persistent behaviours to avoid gaining weight, among others.

Other symptoms include; a relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight, a heavy influence of body weight or perceived body shape on self-esteem.

Erick Musengimana, nutritionist at Rwanda Diabetes Association in Kigali, says people with anorexia nervosa may also have difficulty eating in public, and have a strong desire to control their environment, limiting their ability to be spontaneous.

He notes that such individuals also tend to lose weight solely through dieting, fasting or excessive exercise.

“Anorexia can be very damaging to a human’s health in general. Over time, individuals living with it may experience the thinning of their bones, brittle hair and nails, and even infertility,” he says.

In severe cases, he says anorexia can result in heart, brain or multi-organ failure, or even death.


Another common eating disorder is known as binge eating, which according to Musengimana, typically begins during adolescence and early adulthood, although it can also develop later on.

He says individuals with this disorder can have symptoms such as eating unusually large amounts of food in relatively short periods of time and most of the time, feel a lack of control during binges.

“People with binge eating disorder do not restrict calories or use purging behaviours such as vomiting or excessive exercise to compensate for their binges,” he says.

He adds that this type of eating disorder is also dangerous and people with it are often overweight or obese, which may increase their risk of medical complications linked to excess weight, such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, among others.


Another eating illness is rumination disorder. Dr Eric Rutaganda, a medic at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK) and a consultant and lecturer at University of Rwanda’s College of Medicine and Health Sciences, says rumination disorder also happens among individuals.

He describes it as a condition in which a person regurgitates food they have previously chewed and swallowed, re-chews it and then either re-swallows it or spits it out.

Rumination, he says, typically occurs within the first 30 minutes after a meal. Unlike medical conditions such as reflux, this is voluntary and most of the time, psychological.

He adds that this disorder can develop during infancy, childhood or adulthood. In infants, he says it tends to develop between three and 12 months and often disappears on its own. Children and adults with this condition usually require therapy to resolve it, Rutaganda says.

Musengimana says if this is not resolved in infants, rumination disorder can result in weight loss and severe malnutrition that can be fatal.

On the other hand, he adds that adults with this disorder may restrict the amount of food they eat, which may lead them to lose weight and become underweight.


Medics say the treatments for eating disorders normally involve therapy, education, and medication, and depending on one’s condition, trying out all three to find out what works best for an individual is important.

Kamanzi notes that when it comes to the eating disorder, treatment depends on one’s particular disorder and the symptoms.

He says it includes a combination of psychological therapy, nutrition education, medical monitoring and sometimes, medications.

Alternatively, he says, the treatment can as well involve addressing other health problems caused by an eating disorder, which can be serious or even life-threatening if they go untreated for too long.

“If this happens and an eating disorder doesn’t improve with standard treatment or causes health problems, one may be even hospitalised or given another type of inpatient programme,” he says.

Sindabimenya notes that having an organised approach to eating disorder treatment helps one manage symptoms and at the same time, return to a healthy weight, and maintain their physical and mental health.