What are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia, compulsive overeating or binge eating.
Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by an obsessive need to lose, and fear of gaining, weight. Anorexics commonly engage in starvation, restrictive eating, over-exercising, use of diet pills, and use of laxatives and diuretics in order to lose weight. Over time, the desire to obtain thinness becomes a dangerous obsession.
Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by frequent episodes of binge eating, followed by attempts to lose weight. These attempts may include vomiting, over-exercising, taking laxatives, or using ipecac syrup to induce vomiting.
EDNOS, or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, ranges from people who may not suffer extreme symptoms of eating disorders but may still suffer from concerns over body size, weight and image to people who engage in disordered eating practices. These people may not meet the exact requirements to be classified as Anorexic or Bulimic; however, they still suffer from disordered eating.
Compulsive Overeating or Binge Eating
Compulsive overeating or binge eating is characterized by episodes of binge eating where the person feels out of control, or like they cannot stop. They will often eat until uncomfortably full, but unlike Bulimics, will make no attempts to rid themselves of the calories or subsequent weight gain.
Signs of Eating Disorders
Signs of eating disorders vary from case to case, but often include:
- Losing a lot of weight in a short period of time or extreme weight gain
- Wearing big or baggy clothes to hide body shape or weight loss
- Obsession with weight
- Obsession with calories and fat grams
- Obsession with exercise
- Frequent trips to the bathroom following meals (accompanied with running water to hid sounds of vomiting)
- Food restriction
- Using diet pills
- Abusing laxatives or enemas
- Fear of eating around others
- Unusual food rituals such as cutting the food up into tiny pieces
- Hiding food
- Hair loss
- Frequent sore throats or swollen glands
- Low self esteem
- Feeling cold
- Abnormally low blood pressure or high blood pressure
- Loss of menstrual cycle
- Bruised or callused knuckles from forced vomiting
- Bloodshot eyes
- Perfectionist personality
- Mood swings
- Loss of sexual desire or promiscuous behavior
- Lanugo, or the growth of soft, white, downy hair over the surface of the body
Side Effects and Dangers of Eating Disorders
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Hyponatremia (not enough sodium in the blood)
- Muscle atrophy
- Injuries from over-exercising
- Edema (swelling of the tissues from excess water)
- Tearing of the esophagus from vomiting
- Dental problems from vomiting
- Esophageal reflux
- Gastric bleeding or rupture
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Ketoacidosis (buildup of acid in the blood)
- Amenorrhea (disruption of menstrual cycle)
- Slow or irregular heartbeat, arrhythmias, angina, and heart attacks
- Liver failure
Tests to help diagnose an eating disorder include blood tests, urine tests, blood pressure readings, bone density test, electrocardiogram or echocardiogram, and infertility testing.
Treatment for eating disorders will vary according to the individual. The most important step is to talk to someone about your eating disorder and ask for help. Find a specialist in your area. The National Eating Disorders Association toll-free hotline is 1-800-931-2237.
Have a specialist address health problems associated with an eating disorder. If your health issues are life-threatening, you may need to be hospitalized to keep yourself safe. Once your health problems are under control, you, your doctor and your therapist can work on a long-term recovery plan including therapy, eating disorder education, nutritional counseling and medical monitoring.
You may reduce your or your child’s chances of developing an eating disorder by
Risk Factors of Eating Disorders
- Not measuring your worth by a number on the scale
- Aiming for a healthy and realistic weight for your body type
- Reading magazines that promote a variety of body types and positive self image
- Accepting your body at its natural shape and size
- Focusing on inner beauty in yourself and others
- Eating healthy balanced meals each day
- Educating yourself about nutrition
- Avoiding turning to food to handle your emotional needs
- Exercising regularly
- Promoting a healthy and realistic body image
- Staying informed!
Risks associated with eating disorders include those who are:
- Female (although men also have eating disorders)
- In their teens and early 20s
- Children of overcritical parents
- Suffer with depression and anxiety disorders
- Under emotional stress
- Actors or actresses
- In any industry where body shape and size is extremely important
People who are treated early in their disorder can go on to leading fulfilling, healthy lives. Be sure to stay in treatment long enough to resolve any underlying emotional issues which may have caused the eating disorder; regular follow-up treatment is highly recommended!