What Are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are real, complex medical and psychiatric illnesses that can have serious consequences for health, productivity and relationships.
Eating disorders are illnesses in which the people experience severe disturbances in their eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. People with eating disorders typically become pre-occupied with food and their body weight.
In many cases, eating disorders occur together with other psychiatric disorders like anxiety, panic, obsessive compulsive disorder and alcohol and drug abuse problems.
These disorders can be life-threatening if not recognized and treated appropriately. The earlier a person receives treatment, the greater the likelihood of full recovery. With proper medical care, those with eating disorders can resume suitable eating habits, and return to better emotional and psychological health.
Types of eating disorders
The most common eating disorders are:
anorexia nervosa – Anorexia is a life-threatening disorder that can occur when people who appear underweight to everyone else see themselves as overweight. A person with anorexia will begin to obsess over the details of their food intake and carefully control their weight.
bulimia – Individuals with bulimia nervosa eat excessive quantities, then purge their bodies of the food and calories they fear by using laxatives, enemas, or diuretics; vomiting; or exercising. Often acting in secrecy, they feel disgusted and ashamed as they binge, yet relieved of tension and negative emotions once their stomachs are empty again.
binge eating disorder (BED) – when you regularly lose control of your eating, eat large portions of food all at once until you feel uncomfortably full, and are then often upset or guilty
other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) – when your symptoms don't exactly match those of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, but it doesn't mean it's a less serious illness
OSFED is the most common, then binge eating disorder and bulimia. Anorexia is the least common.
What causes eating disorders?
As with most mental illnesses, eating disorders are not caused by just one factor but by a combination of sociocultural, psychological and biological factors.
Sociocultural and psychological factors:
Pressures to be thin (i.e., pressure to lose weight from family and friends)
Cultural norms of attractiveness as promoted by magazines and popular culture
Use of food as way of coping with negative emotions
Rigid, “black or white” thinking (e.g., “being fat is bad” and “being thin is good”)
Over-controlling parents who do not allow expression of emotion
History of sexual abuse
Genetic predisposition to eating disorders, depression, and anxiety
Certain personality styles, for example obsessive-compulsive personality type
Deficiency or excess of certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters
Who suffers from eating disorders?
All eating disorders can occur in both males and females of any age.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, eating disorders primarily affect girls and women.1 But eating disorders aren't just a problem for the teenage women so often depicted in the media. Men and boys can also be vulnerable.
Warning signs and symptoms
Early intervention is the best way to assist with successful recovery. It’s important to be aware of the warning signs that may indicate someone is developing or experiencing an eating disorder. Many people with an eating disorder do not realise they have a problem, or if they do, they may go to extraordinary lengths to hide the signs of their behaviour.
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