Eating disorders describe a group of illnesses that are identified by severe disturbances in the individuals eating behaviors as well causing a negative impact in their health, related thoughts, emotions and ability to function in important areas in life.
Majority of eating disorders involve tunnel visioning and focusing too much on your weight, body shape and food. It may include excessive or inadequate food intake which can both physically and mentally damage an individual’s well being.
Eating disorders are most common in women between the ages of 12 and 35 but they affect several million people at any given time. They usually develop during the teen or young adult years but can also develop at any age. With treatment, it is possible to return to a state of healthier eating habits and possibly reverse the complications that resulted from the eating disorder.
There are three main types of eating disorders, each described below;
People with anorexia are unable to maintain a normal weight because they refuse to eat and so they end up being severely underweight. They have an unrealistic perception of body image and an obsessive fear of eating or gaining weight.
They significantly restrict the amount of food they eat, are constantly weighing themselves and find themselves to be overweight when they are dangerously underweight. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder with many dying from the complications of starvation, as well as suicide.
Bulimia is most often identified by significant repeated binge eating which is then followed by behaviors that are supposed to counteract the overeating. This includes things like, excessive exercise, abuse of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, and forced vomiting.
Sufferers of bulimia, like other eating disorders, may fear weight gain and be severely unhappy with their size and shape. The binge and purge cycle is usually done in secret which in turn create feelings of shame, guilt and lack of self control. Bulimia can also have damaging effects such as gastrointestinal problems, dehydration or heart difficulties resulting from electrolyte imbalance. However, unlike Anorexia, people with Bulimia usually maintain what is considered a healthy or normal body weight.
Binge Eating Disorder
Individuals with binge eating usually lose control of his/her eating. Unlike bulimia, the binging is not followed by an episode of purging and so binge eaters are more often than not overweight or obese and at risk of developing conditions such as cardiovascular disease. Sufferers are also susceptible to feelings of guilt, embarrassment or distress with regards to their binge eating which in turn affects how how disorder progresses.
More often than not, eating disorders are usually accompanied by other psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse. Without properly treating the physical and emotional symptoms, eating disorders can potentially result in heart problems, malnutrition and can be even fatal in some circumstances.
Risk groups & Prevention
While eating disorders are more common in young women, males are also at risk of developing these conditions. The exact cause, as with other mental illnesses, are unknown, but here are a few risk factors that may make you more susceptible to eating disorders:
- Stress – A drastic change in stress, such as starting a new job, going to college or moving, may increase the risk of developing an eating disorder.
- Family history – If you have a parent or sibling with an eating disorder, you are significantly more likely to develop one yourself.
- Other mental disorders – People who develop eating disorders usually have a history of of other mental disorders such as anxiety, depression or obsessive compulsive disorder.
- Dieting and starvation – Dieting is a risk factor as starvation can have an effect on your mood, rigidity of thinking and anxiety causing a reduction in appetite. There is a strong evidence that shows that many of the symptoms of eating disorders are similar to the symptoms of starvation. This may train bad eating behaviors into an individual and make it more difficult to return to normal eating habits.
- Genetics – Your genetic make up might put you at more risk for developing eating disorders. In addition, biological factors such as changes in brain chemicals may play a role.
Eating disorders are complex conditions with numerous factors coming into play. In addition they are slightly different depending on which type of eating disorder you have. Here are some some signs and symptoms of an individual suffering from an eating disorder is are:
- Limited food intake
- Problems with body image or denying low body weight
- Being extremely underweight
- Menstrual periods stop
- Brittle hair and nails
- Depression and lethargy
- Chronically inflamed or sore throat
- Intestinal and kidney problems from laxative and diuretic abuse
- Severe dehydration
- Tooth decay from exposure to stomach acids
Binge eating disorder
- Eating more rapidly than normal
- Eating until uncomfortably full
- Eating alone due to embarrassment
- Eating huge amounts of food even when you’re not physically hungry
- Feeling depressed or guilty after eating large amounts
Diagnosing an eating disorder is largely based on an observation of the patients signs and symptoms with regards to their eating habits. Your doctor may also perform the following test assessment to make the diagnosis more accurate:
- Physical exam
- Psychological evaluation – A doctor may talk to you about your thoughts and feelings with respect to your eating habits and you may be asked to complete a self assessment questionnaire.
- Additional tests for complications regarding an eating disorder
Treatment of an eating disorder depends on which specific type you have. Generally, it involves psychotherapy, medication, and education on nutrition. In severe cases when your life may be at risk, the individual may be hospitalized.
It is important however to adopt and maintain healthy eating habits no matter which type of eating disorder you have. In addition Family based therapy and Cognitive Behavioral therapy may prove helpful when dealing with eating disorders.