Eating disorders are illnesses that are associated with disturbances in eating and weight-related thoughts, emotions and behavior. There is often a preoccupation with food, body weight, and/or shape. The eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Up to 25% of adolescents and young adults may be at risk to develop eating disorders. Eating disorders can cause physical harm as well as an impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
People with anorexia nervosa may see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight. They may weigh themselves repeatedly or severely restrict the amount of food they eat. Excessive exercise and laxative abuse may be significant features. There is an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image. Anorexia nervosa has a high mortality rate and is typically associated with several physical complications.
People with bulimia have recurrent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food in a short amount of time. They experience a loss of control over these binge-eating episodes. This binge-eating is followed by compensatory behavior such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors. People with bulimia are usually of normal weight. Their self-evaluation is unduly dependent on body shape and weight.
Very similar to bulimia but no compensatory behavior is involved. People with binge-eating disorder lose control over his or her eating. Binge eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following:
- Eating much more rapidly than normal.
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.
- Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.
- Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
- Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterwards.
What causes eating disorders ?
Eating disorders are caused by a complex interaction of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors. Adverse childhood experiences, bullying, trauma and abuse can lead to the development of faulty coping mechanisms that may predispose one to developing an eating disorder.
If left untreated, eating disorders(especially anorexia) can lead to dangerous physical manifestations. Lower one’s BMI is, higher the chances of medical complications.
- Weakening and thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
- Muscle wasting.
- Dry and yellowish skin.
- Fine hair all over the body (lanugo).
- Severe constipation.
- Inability to regulate blood pressure and heart rate.
- Damage to the structure and function of the heart.
- Brain damage.
- Multi organ failure.
- Inability to regulate body temperature.
- Lethargy, sluggishness, or feeling tired all the time.
- Infertility and altered menstrual periods.
- Electrolyte disturbances and deficiency syndromes.
How are eating disorders treated ?
It is important to seek treatment early for eating disorders. People with eating disorders are at higher risk for physical and mental complications. Treatment is initially aimed at restoring body homeostasis and correction of medically dangerous imbalances. The mainstay of treatment for eating disorders is psychotherapy. Therapy is aimed at identifying distorted or unhelpful thinking patterns about eating and body image and replacing them with healthy alternatives. Therapy is often aimed at helping the sufferer gain confidence and control over their eating patterns.
Medication can be helpful in treating co-morbid conditions such as anxiety and depression. Medication may also be required to treat the physical complications of eating disorders.