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Eating Disorders – Types, Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are complex and are typically characterized by their extremes. A person with eating disorder can either be overeating or under-eating. These eating disorders can occur in varying intensity and over a varying period of time. People of both sexes and all ages can experience eating disorder. It is not uncommon for people to suffer from chronic eating disorders. This usually happens due to very high levels of stress or due to unhealthy eating practices motivated by ones weight and body shape. Usually, such disorders are of low intensity as in the person’ food intake increases or reduces gradually but with the passage of time, the person starts to either too much or too less. Despite years of scientific research, the human community has not been able to fully comprehend the biological, behavioral and social reasons for eating disorders

Eating Disorders Facts and Statistics

About 8 million Americans have one form of eating disorder. One in every 200 Americans women suffers from anorexia while two to three women in 100 American women suffers from bulimia. Around 10-15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are males. About 20% of people suffering from anorexia die prematurely because of complications related to their disorder. This also includes people with heart problems and those committing suicide.

Anorexia-Nervosa

Source : flickr

Types of Eating Disorders

There are different types of eating disorder and they are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Both these types of eating disorders categories symbolize each extreme of eating disorder. In recent days, another category named as EDNOS has also been created to characterize Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified. Binge-eating is a one form of EDNOS.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is a type of eating disorder that arises due to an individual in-taking very small quantity of food primarily due to a desire to look very thin and ignore the health issues.  The fear of gaining weight also adds to the mental stress and catalyzes the disorder. Girls and women who do not experience normal menstruation very often experience anorexia nervosa. Persons suffering from this type of eating disorder very often weigh themselves to ensure that they have not put on weight. Sometimes people self-induce vomit and misuse laxatives and diuretics in an attempt to lose weight.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is a type of eating disorder that is used to characterize the habit of excessive eating and at very frequent intervals. Binge-eating is an example of Bulimia Nervosa wherein a person does not have control on his/her eating habit and consumes excessive amounts. Binge-eating is usually followed by purging activities like vomiting. Most patients suffering from bulimia eat in secrecy as they fear the social stigma of being seen and ridiculed eating excessive amount of food.

Symptoms of Eating Disorders

The symptoms of both the eating disorders are different. When suffering from Anorexia, the patient exhibits eating disorder symptoms such as osteopenia or osteoporpsis which involves the thinning of bones, the hair and nails becoming very brittle. The skin usually turns dry and at times becomes yellowish. Patients have also been observed to have growth of fine hair over the body and suffer from mild anemia, muscle weakness and severe constipation. A slowed breathing and pulse with low blood pressure is also a typical eating disorder symptom of anorexia.  Patients display lethargic attitude and the person feels excessive cold due to the reduction in the internal body temperature.

On the other hand people suffering from bulimia have symptoms of eating disorder such as an inflamed and sore throat that could even become chronic. The glands in the neck and below the jaw are often seen to be swollen. Gastroesophageal reflux disorder is very common symptom of eating disorder along with distress and irritation of the intestines primarily due to laxative abuse.  Diuretic abuse leads to issues in kidney while purging of fluids leads to severe dehydration. Excessive exposure of teeth makes them very sensitive and leads to subsequent decay due to the worn out tooth enamel.  Many of these electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal problems and tooth problems arise from the need to purge after excessive eating.

Both these types of eating disorders are associated with other psychological illness. This includes depression, and anxiety arising from the disorder and otherwise. Substance abuse is also a very dangerous and often found issue with these eating disorders.

Causes of Eating Disorders

The causes of eating disorder hardly lie in food and are dependent on other factors that include psychological, interpersonal, social and biological factors. Low self-esteem, notions of incompleteness, lack of control over life, depression, anxiety anger and loneliness are some of the psychological causes.

Interpersonal causes include troubled family and personal relationships, ainability to express emotions and feelings, a history of both sexual or physical abuse and being ridiculed due to the person’s size and weight. Very narrow definitions of beauty and the glorification of thinness are some of the social causes of eating disorder. Certain cultures that associate values to a person’s physical appearance can also be a social cause of eating disorder.

Biological causes of eating disorder include a genetic history of over eating and the imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain that lead to over or under eating. However, the biological causes of eating disorder have not been convincingly established and are an active area of research.

Diagnosis of Eating Disorders

Diagnosis of eating disorder involves a variety of measures starting from a simple physical examination to more complex examination of an individual’s mental state. Blood tests, Urine tests, Radiological investigations and Stool tests are quite common techniques employed to in order to arrive at a diagnosis of eating disorders. Engaging in compulsive rigorous exercise is also a common method to diagnose people with eating disorder. People with anorexia can be seen to be very obsessed about the calories involved in everyday food items and constantly explore for food with least amount of calories and fat.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

The treatment of eating disorder is a multi pronged strategy and involves getting the person to a normal healthy weight in a phased manner, understand and addressing the psychological issues that have been responsible for the eating disorder and gradual reduction of the thoughts that lead to excessive or reduced intake of food. Use of antidepressants, antipsychotics and mood stabilizers has also been widely practiced leading to varying degrees of result.


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