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Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are not lifestyle fads or serious diet programs. They are serious mental illnesses leading to unhealthy eating habits that can turn fatal in many cases. 

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There are different types of eating disorders that affect a person in different ways. These eating disorders have different causes and symptoms. However, they are all related to low self esteem, poor body image and psychological issues.

What are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders come under the category of psychological illnesses that causes one to develop abnormal eating habits. These habits cause one to eat insufficient or excessive amounts of food. This depends on the person’s mental as well as physical health. Some of the common types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

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Types of Eating Disorders

People with eating disorders have extreme emotions, behaviors and attitude towards their weight and food. They cause serious emotional as well as physical problems in the affected individual, that can lead to fatal consequences.

There are different types of eating disorders, of which the following is commonly observed.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a condition where one simply starves themselves as they are convinced they are overweight. They eat less and develop a body weight that is at least 15% less than their normal body weight.

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The cause of anorexia is different for different people. It may include a genetic predisposition in some and for some it is a deadly combination of environmental, cultural and social factors.

In some cases, the affected individual thinks it is the only way to control their body image and self-worth. In some, it is a way to fight the stress, emotional needs, anxiety, pain and other complex emotions.

For girls, it is usually away to remain in the so-called ‘thin’ bracket and for boys it is a way to exercise and maintain a muscular body.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is the opposite of anorexia, where the affected person undergoes recurring episodes of binge eating. They will devour large amount of food in a short time, like just 2 hours. Once the episode of binge eating is over, they will overcome the feeling of guilt related to their inability to control their eating. After the episode, their guilt ridden self will vomit, use laxatives or diuretics, fast, carry out excessive exercise or even use drugs or over-the-counter weight control medications to lose weight.

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A person with bulimia has a misconception related to their body weight or body shape. They suffer from low self-esteem and self-worth. Gradually, the episodes of binge eating and then forcing themselves to vomit or fast spirals out-of-control.

Bulimia often goes undetected for years as the affected person can go to great lengths to keep their eating and exercise habits a secret. A person with bulimia does not appear underweight. They may gain weight or have slightly less weight than normal.

Binge Eating Disorders

Binge eating is another common eating disorder which does not involve self-induced vomiting or excessive exercising episodes after eating. People who undergo binge eating episodes are often overweight and obese. During binge eating, the person eats large amounts of food in a short span of time. They tend to lose control when eating. The reasons differ from person to person and are affected by genetic predisposition, environmental, cultural as well as social factors.

A person who undergoes binge eating often develops feelings of guilt and shame. They cannot stop eating even after they are full or feel uncomfortable.

Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa as well as binge eating has different symptoms. However, some of the common signs the person is suffering from an eating disorder include:

  • Excessive loss of weight
  • Tiredness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Abuse of laxatives or diuretics to lose weight gained
  • Negative or distorted self-image
  • Unhealthy focus on their body image or body type
  • Rushing to the bathroom after eating or during the meal
  • Excessive eating that causes stomach pain or discomfort
  • Eating as if there is tomorrow
  • Eating alone most of the time

Cause of Eating Disorders

The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown.

Some of the possible reasons for developing these psychological illnesses include:

  • Genetic link where a parent or sibling had suffered from similar problems.
  • Poor emotional and psychological health where the person has poor self-image, self-esteem as well as problems with relationships
  • Social pressure where the girls are pretty if they are thin and boys are handsome when they appear muscular. This thinking fuels the desire to be perfect and acceptable by the society in adolescents.

Diagnosis of Eating Disorders

Diagnosis is carried out with the help of physical examination, lab tests to conduct a complete blood count (CBC), kidney, thyroid function, etc. X-rays to check for heart problems.

The patient is psychologically evaluated and their eating habits, beliefs as well as behavior understood. Based on Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the person is diagnosed with a particular eating disorder.

Treatment for Eating Disorder

The eating disorder is treated with the help of medications, psychotherapy, education and giving proper nutrition to the affected person. A person who is extremely underweight may have to be hospitalized. Here, the person will be helped back to gain normal body weight with the help of dieticians and other related health care providers.

Eating disorders are very serious conditions. They need to be spotted immediately and the affected person has to be convinced to seek help. The person will obviously be in a denial mode, but they need help. One has to win over their trust and help them overcome their problems. Remember, physical beauty will fade with time. Do not waste your health by abusing your body. Build a strong character and self-image. This will help you win over hearts rather than be friends with people who are shallow and do not see beyond physical appearances.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 07, 2015