Eating disorder is an illness that causes serious disturbances to your everyday diet
According to the National Association of Anorexia and Related Disorders (ANAD), over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives. ANAD also reports that eating disorders are the number one fatal mental health disorder.
Mortality rates can vary and part of the reason why is that the causes of reported deaths are often listed for complications (organ failure, malnutrition, suicide, heart failure) resulting from rather than the actual eating disorder itself.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “An eating disorder is an illness that causes serious disturbances to your everyday diet, such as eating extremely small amounts of food or severely overeating.”
The three types of eating disorders include:
- Anorexia nervosa: People with anorexia see themselves as overweight and are afraid to gain weight despite the fact that they are clearly underweight. Anorexia is more than just about food. It is a way to feel in control. People will weigh themselves constantly, will weigh and measure and calculate the calories of the food they do ingest. For some, with anorexia, binge-eating may occur, they may become obsessed with excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting, use diuretics, laxatives or enemas. Some with anorexia say that this control with food and weight is a way to gain more control in their lives and to ease the stress and anxieties they experience. The medical consequences of anorexia vary including in seriousness but it affects the heart, other organs, the bones, and a myriad other physical conditions.
- Bulimia nervosa: People with bulimia have recurring episodes of overeating very large amounts of food followed by one or more of these methods to compensate for the over-eating: self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, excessive exercise, fasting. Unlike those with anorexia, those suffering bulimia often have a normal healthy weight. They are often very unhappy with their bodies and fear gaining weight. They tend to binge and purge secretively (because they are disgusted with themselves and are ashamed) from several times a week to several times a day. A host of medical problems caused by bulimia include hair loss, dental problems, gastrointestinal conditions, and problems affecting the heart.
- Binge Eating Disorder: Those with binge eating disorder eat huge amounts of food during which they feel they have no control. Unlike those with anorexia or bulimia, people with binge eating disorder do not self-induce vomit, exercise excessively, eat only certain foods or small amounts. Therefore, those with binge eating disorder tend to be over-weight or even obese. Often those with this disorder feel guilt and shame about their binge eating which leads them to continue the cycle. Many miss work, school or social events to binge eat. Those with binge eating disorders often report having more health problems, depression, stress, trouble sleeping, and suicidal thoughts than those without this disorder. It can increase the risk for heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and other medical complications.
Most eating disorders begin in the teen years or young adulthood. Typically many of us associate eating disorders with young white females of privilege who need control and have a competitive, high achieving personality. But, it is now becoming evident that eating disorders are becoming more prevalent in female minorities, men, the LGBTQ population, older adults, and females in some Jewish and Muslim communities and most likely has been all along. Eating disorders, like many medical conditions, affect people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, racial/ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic status, education levels, and various faiths/religions.
It is not exactly known what causes eating disorders. Some of the factors that may play a part in developing these conditions is the role of culture where thinness is expected and the pressure to have a perfect body, being in an environment where family members may diet or have high expectations on appearances, life changes or stressful events, abnormal activity in areas of the brain, genes or hormones or other biological factors may play a role as do some personality traits where someone may place high personal goals for themselves or are never happy with who they are. More research needs to be done to better understand the factors involved in eating disorders, the cultural and gender differences and the effects of society and the environment.
The diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders has changed over the years and for the better. Eating disorders are now considered a true medical illness that is treatable. It is possible to get better. Having a team made up of a variety of specialists that may include doctors, nutritionists, therapists, and social workers will work together to create a combination of therapies. And of course a supportive team at home to help along the way will help make it possible.