Did Steve Jobs have an eating disorder?

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In this blog post, we will answer the question “did Steve Jobs have an eating disorder?” and look at who Steve Jobs is and his struggle with an eating disorder. We will also look at what anorexia is, the symptoms and risk factors. Finally, we will look at the treatment of anorexia nervosa.

Did Steve Jobs have an eating disorder?

Yes, Steve Jobs had an eating disorder. Though he did not come out and address it himself, there is sufficient evidence from his close family, friends and coworkers that he had been suffering from disordered eating since he was young. Before discussing Job’s compulsive eating, let us look at who Steve Jobs was.

Who was Steve Jobs?

Steve Paul Jobs was an American entrepreneur, media proprietor, investor, inventor and business magnate. He was the co-founder, chairman and CEO of the companies Apple, and NeXT, chairman and majority shareholder of Pixar and a member of The Walt Disney Company board of directors. He is recognized as the pioneer of the personal computer revolution with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

He was diagnosed with a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour in 2003. He died from a respiratory arrest related to the tumour on October 5th 2015 at the age of 56.

Steve Jobs struggle with disordered eating

As documented in the biography, Steve Jobs (Simon and Schuster, 2011) by Walter Isaacson, Jobs’ compulsive dietary habits developed as a teenager when a neighbour taught him about organic gardening and to compost. He started experimenting with compulsive dieting towards the end of his senior year in high school so as to become lean and tight.

He embraced extreme diet plans that included purging, fasts and eating one or two foods comprised of fruits. It is documented that he could eat apples or carrots for weeks. He believed that prolonged fasts would cleanse his body and rid him of body odour.

His fruitarian diet led him to the discovery of Apple as the name of his company. He decreed for all sodas in the office refrigerators to be replaced by organic juices. Jobs would spend weeks eating apples or carrot salads with lemon and then follow this with prolonged fasts.

These restrictive diets, prolonged fasting, purging, flawed beliefs about food, being very picky about foods and dramatic weight losses are symptoms of anorexia nervosa. At one point in Jobs’s life, his disordered eating made him lose 40 pounds in the spring of 2008.

During the final years of his life, his wife had unsuccessfully tried to convince her husband to see eating disorder specialists and psychiatrists. He displayed a longstanding pattern of disordered eating throughout his life. Let us now look at what anorexia nervosa is and the symptoms of anorexia that could point out that Steve Jobs had anorexia.

What is anorexia nervosa?

It is a severe eating disorder characterized by abnormal body weight, distorted body image, and unwarranted fear of gaining weight. In order to prevent weight gain, anorexic people try to control their body weight by vomiting food, using laxatives, diet aids, and excessive exercise.

It usually begins during the teenage and early adulthood years. It is more common in women than in men.

Anorexia is the most deadly mental illness. One study found that people with anorexia are 56 times more likely to commit suicide than people without an eating disorder. (Eating Disorders Coalition, 2016).

Symptoms of anorexia nervosa

The symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Thin appearance 
  • extremely low body weight
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • dry skin
  • hair that easily falls off
  • preoccupation with food
  • skipping meals
  • refusing to eat
  • denying hunger
  • complaints of being overweight
  • measuring weight often
  • lying about the quantity of food taken.
  • Excessive exercising
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irritability
  • Dehydration
  • Swelling of arms and legs
  • Dry or yellowish skin
  • Low blood pressure
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • Abnormal blood count
  • Absence of menstruation
  • Bluish colouring on finger 
  • Constipation
  • Eroded teeth

Risk factors of anorexia nervosa

The risk factors of anorexia include:

Biological factors

People with close family members(parents or siblings) with anorexia, another mental condition, history of dieting, or type 1 diabetes are at a higher risk of developing the disorder.

Psychological factors

People with unrealistic high expectations of themselves are at a high risk of developing anorexia. Body image dissatisfaction, history of anxiety and behavioural inflexibility are also at a high risk of developing anorexia nervosa.

Social factors

Exposure to weight stigma where people believe being thin is healthy and beautiful can increase body satisfaction which can then lead to the development of anorexia. Other social factors include teasing and bullying, limited social interactions, historical trauma, acculturation, and the appearance of ideal internalization (buying into the message of “ideal” body weight, shape and appearance).

Complications of anorexia

Anorexia can cause severe complications like:

  • Abnormal heart rhythms, mitral valve prolapse, or heart failure
  • Anaemia
  • Osteoporosis that increases the risk of fractures
  • Absence of periods in females
  • Loss of muscle
  • Electrolyte abnormalities
  • Decreased testosterone in men
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Kidney problems

Severe malnutrition can cause brain, kidney and heart damage and this damage cannot be fully reversible even after anorexia is under control.

Some mental complications related to anorexia include:

  • Self-injury, suicidal ideation, thoughts or attempts
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Alcohol and substance misuse
  • Personality disorders

Management and treatment of anorexia nervosa

Many people deny having anorexia and only seek treatment when their condition is serious or life-threatening. The most challenging part of treatment is getting the individual affected to accept treatment. Most of those in treatment centres are coerced r forced into treatment by their loved ones which makes treatment long and tedious.

The goals of treatment are:

  • Begin nutritive rehabilitation to regain weight
  • Stabilize weight loss
  • Treat underlying psychological issues
  • Eliminate purging or binging habits and other disordered eating patterns
  • Develop long-term positive behaviour patterns

Treatment includes strategies like:

Medication

Some healthcare providers recommend the use of medication to treat anxiety and depressive symptoms which are common in people suffering from eating disorders. Some psychotic medication like olanzapine is good for weight gain. Some other medications help with period regulation.

Nutritive counselling

This helps in restoring a healthy relationship with food and eating patterns, teaching healthy approaches to food, teaching the importance of nutrition and eating balanced meals and helping restore normal eating patterns.

Psychotherapy

Individual counselling helps in changing the thinking (cognitive therapy) and behaviour (behavioural therapy) of the individual with an eating disorder. Therapy helps the person accept and get committed to treatment, address distorted thinking patterns surrounding food, develop new skills in dealing with negative thought patterns and behaviours and also solve interpersonal conflicts.

Family and group therapy

Family support is crucial in the life of a person recovering from an eating disorder. They must understand and be aware of the symptoms and warning signs of the disorder. Group therapy with those going through the same is also important in opening up without feeling judged and getting realistic and workable solutions from others.

Hospitalization

This is necessary for those with severe weight loss resulting in malnutrition or those with severe mental and physical effects of anorexia. This includes those with heart complications, depression or suicidal thoughts, ideations or trials.

Prevention of anorexia

There is no guaranteed way to prevent anorexia nervosa. However, primary care providers are in a good position to identify early warning signs and indicators of anorexia and prevent them from becoming full-blown symptoms. They can ask questions about eating habits and body image during health check-ups.

Teaching and encouraging healthy habits is important in the prevention and worsening of symptoms. If your child or a family member decides to become a vegetarian or starts dieting, it is worth seeing a dietician, or your health care provider makes sure that they do not lose vital nutrients.

Conclusion

We have looked at who Steve Jobs is, his struggle with disordered eating, what anorexia is and its symptoms. We have also looked t the risk factors and complications of anorexia nervosa. Finally, we have tackled the treatment of anorexia nervosa and prevention of anorexia.

If you have any questions or comments, please let us know in the comment section below.

Frequently asked questions: Steve Jobs eating disorder

What was Steve Jobs eating?

He was believed to be on a fruitarian diet, a strict vegetarian diet that emphasizes eating fruits, and some nuts and grain. Jobs would eat apples or carrot salad for weeks.

How long was Steve Jobs a vegetarian?

His skin and eyes were noted to be turning yellow and orange hue in his twenties. This was an indication of obstruction of his bile ducts and the onset of pancreatic cancer, an indication that he could have been dieting for almost 30 years.

What was the cause of Steve Jobs’s death?

He died at the age of 56 from complications of pancreatic cancer on October 5, 2011.

Citations

Sith D. (July 28, 2019). Steve Jobs had an extreme diet that included fasting for days and eating the same vegetables over and over again — here’s what Apple’s visionary cofounder liked to eat (AAPL). Retrieved from https://africa.businessinsider.com/tech/steve-jobs-had-an-extreme-diet-that-included-fasting-for-days-and-eating-the-same/0xxchj4#:~:text=Apple%20cofounder%20Steve%20Jobs%20had,pursuing%20an%20extreme%20vegetarian%20diet.

Daniel K. (December 27, 2011). iVegetarian2: The Eating Disorders of Steve Jobs. retrieved from https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/soy-alert/ivegetarian2-the-eating-disorders-of-steve-jobs/

Mayo Clinic, Anorexia Nervosa. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anorexia-nervosa/symptoms-causes/syc-20353591

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