Eating Disorders Can Be Fatal
Though more common among women, eating disorders affect both sexes, often affecting multiple people in the same family. Therefore, research believes there may be a genetic component associated with it. Those who suffer from eating disorders have distorted body images leading to an obsession with weight loss. The methods used to control weight and food intake often result in eventual death. Warning signs of an eating disorder include preoccupations with food, body weight, and shape. Three common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, Bulimia, and binge eating.
Early recognition and prompt treatment could save the life of someone who has an eating disorder since most who strive to keep such rigid control over their diet also suffer from severe depression with suicidal tendencies.
Treatment for Eating Disorders
Seeking treatment soon after the onset of symptoms is critical because many individuals with eating disorders attempt suicide. Frequently, severe depression, anxiety, or substance abuse accompanies the disorder and contributes to their challenges.
While individualized treatment plans are essential for effective care, most plans include one or more of the following:
- Individual, group, or family psychotherapy, including Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Medical care and monitoring
- Nutritional counseling
- Medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers
- Family-based therapy is called the Maudsley approach. (The Maudsley approach requires parents of adolescents with anorexia nervosa to assume responsibility for feeding their child. In doing so, the child often puts on weight and improves eating habits. As a result, their mood also improves.)
National Institute of Mental Health
National Eating Disorders
National Association of Anorexia nervosa and Associated Disorders
Individuals with Bulimia Nervosa control their food consumption by purging after they eat. You can’t always identify them by appearance because they could be underweight, overweight, or not have a weight problem at all. They may not constantly purge. Instead, purging may only occur when they overeat due to anxiety.
Bulimic episodes often follow a pattern where a trigger creates a desire for spontaneous, uncontrollable eating. Following uncontrollable eating, the person feels terrible guilt and immediately purges to remove the guilt feelings. The method used to purge may be the same each time or vary depending on individual choice. Some common methods include vomiting, using laxatives, exercising aggressively, taking diuretics, fasting (i.e., eating or drinking nothing for a time), or combining methods.
Signs you might see in someone who has Bulimia include the following:
- Chronically inflamed and sore throat
- Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area
- Worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth from exposure to stomach acid
- Acid reflux disorder and other gastrointestinal problems
- Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
- Severe dehydration from purging of fluids
- Electrolyte imbalance (too low or too high levels of sodium, calcium, potassium, and other minerals) can lead to stroke or heart attack
- Compulsive exercise
- Suddenly eating large amounts of food or buying large quantities disappear immediately.
- Regularly going to the bathroom right after meals.
- Throwing away packages of laxatives, diet pills, emetics (drugs that cause vomiting), or diuretics.
Anorexia Nervosa is a serious health problem among teens and young adults. It’s the number one killer of those with mental health problems or eating disorders due to starvation-associated complications and the frequency of suicide occurrences. Though more common in girls, both genders are at risk, especially in individuals with self-image problems.
The primary challenge facing individuals with Anorexia Nervosa is their self-image and struggles with perfectionism. When a person with Anorexia looks at themselves in the mirror, they see someone overweight, even if they are 15 % or more under the average weight for their body type. As a result, they severely restrict the amount of food they consume to starvation. They often exercise aggressively without eating enough to support the activity or purge after eating like those with Bulimia do. The person with Anorexia becomes consumed with how they look and the need to be a perfect weight. All their effort goes into maintaining that perfect image.
Furthermore, not only are they obsessed with the perfect appearance, but perfectionism in all aspects of their lives takes control. They must be perfect in school, work, home, relationships, etc. Whatever they do must always be perfect; to fail is unacceptable. When failure occurs, and it always does, thoughts of suicide are common.
Individuals with Anorexia are perfectionists with negative self-images who see themselves as overweight even though they are probably as much as 15% or more under the average weight for their body type. They severely restrict the amount of food they eat, exercising often and vigorously while only eating when necessary and forcing themselves to vomit afterward or using laxatives to purge their intestines. Many people with Anorexia die from complications of the disorder, either from starvation or suicide.
Symptoms frequently seen with Anorexia include the following,
- Extremely restricted eating, cutting food into small pieces or moving them around the plate instead of eating
- A relentless pursuit of thinness, unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight for age and height (often 15% or more below average)
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Self-esteem is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape, believing in the need to maintain extreme thinness (emaciation)
- Denial of the seriousness of low body weight
- Exercising all the time, even when the weather is bad, they are hurt, or their schedule is busy.
- Refusing to eat around other people
- Use pills to make themselves urinate (water pills or diuretics), have a bowel movement (enemas and laxatives), decrease their appetite (diet pills), or go to the bathroom right after meals as a result.
After weeks and months of starvation, the body begins to react to the loss of nutrients and the abuse it’s receiving, and the following additional symptoms begin to develop. When these symptoms begin, the individual’s health is in serious jeopardy.
Signs of Health Risk
- Thinning and weakness of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
- Muscle wasting and weakness with no body fat
- Extreme sensitivity to cold due to a drop in internal body temperature (wearing several layers of clothing to stay warm)
- Mild anemia leads to lethargy, sluggishness, or feeling tired all the time
- Brittle hair and nails, growth of fine hair all over the body (lanugo)
- Dry and yellowish skin, dry mouth
- Severe constipation
- Low blood pressure slowed breathing and pulse.
- Damage to the structure and function of the heart
- Brain damage
- Multiorgan failure
- Infertility, no period for three or more cycles
- Confused or slow thinking, along with poor memory or judgment.
Binge eating is becoming a growing problem in the United States, with an estimated 5% of Americans currently receiving treatment for the disorder. However, experts feel another 10-15% of mildly obese people deal with the problem regularly, as reported by self-help group data. Participants admit bingeing eating when feeling depressed, embarrassed, or guilty.
The typical binge-eater is overweight, maybe obese, and eats much food beyond feeling full (i.e., approximately 5,000-15,000 calories in one sitting). Binge eaters fall into the habit of soothing themselves with food during periods of depression, guilt, sadness, embarrassment, and guilt. However, guilt sets in after binging on the food, and they feel worse.
Symptoms of Binge Eating Include:
- Taking 5,000-15,000 calories in one sitting over a specific amount of time, such as 2 hours.
- Often eats large snacks throughout the day, in addition to eating three meals a day.
- Continuing to eat even when full or not hungry, even until uncomfortably full.
- Consuming food quickly during the binge episode.
- Sitting alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment over a large amount of food ordered.
- Feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about eating.
- Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss.