Eating Disorders: One of the Mental Health Conditions
Contrary to a commonly held view, they are not lifestyle choices. Eating disorders are severe conditions that can result in death. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder.[ii]
Common Eating Disorders
Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorders are the three most common eating disorders. Each has their own manifestations and unique symptoms, but they also have some commonalities, such as
- Obsession and disturbed relationship with food
- More prevalent in affluent cultures
- Disproportionate number of young women in their teens and twenties are diagnosed
- Disorders usually come on gradually, may be unnoticed in the beginning
- Influenced by cultural body image
- Obsessed with body image
- Personality traits like perfectionism and obsessiveness that also manifest depression and/or anxiety
Anorexia Nervosa Eating Disorder
People with anorexia do not see their body as others do. They can be incredibly or dangerously thin, but when they look in the mirror, their mind sees someone who needs to lose more weight. People with anorexia die from complications arising from starvation. Also, more women with anorexia die from suicide than other mental health disorders.
Symptoms of anorexia include:
- Weighs themselves constantly
- Restricts the amount of food eaten
- Eats only certain foods
- Life-threatening thinness – may look emaciated
- Lethargy, feeling sluggish, and tired all the time
- Extreme fear of weight gain
- Anemia and muscle wasting
- Bone thinning
- Yellow and dry skin
- Weak nails and brittle hair
- Low blood pressure
- Menstrual cycle stops
- Organ Failure
The main characteristics of bulimia are binge eating with a feeling of being unable to control the episodes. After consuming large amounts of food, people with bulimia will induce vomiting, use excessive amounts of laxative or diuretics, fast, or workout excessively. They may also do a combination of these behaviors. Those with bulimia nervosa are usually able to maintain weight within reasonable limits.
Symptoms are bulimia nervosa are:
- Tooth sensitivity, decaying teeth, and thin too enamel from stomach acid due to frequent vomiting
- Chronic inflamed and sore throat
- Intestinal conditions from laxative abuse
- Swollen salivary glands
- Digestive disorders such as acid reflux
- Electrolyte imbalance
Loss of control over eating is the distinctive hallmark of the binge-eating disorder. There is no extreme exercising, fasting, or purging as there is with bulimia nervosa or binge-eating disorders. In the U.S., binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder, and people with it are either over weight or abuse.
Symptoms of binge-eating disorder are:
- Consuming uncommonly large amounts of food in one sitting
- Eating fast during binging periods
- Eating when full or not hungry
- Avoiding eating in front of others
- Dieting without weight loss and frequent dieting
- Feelings of shame and guilt about eating
Cause of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are complex conditions. Researchers believe that eating disorders are a combination of biological, genetic, psychological, social, and behavioral factors according to NIMH. One area researchers are looking is genes since eating disorders run in families. They are researching DNA variations that are linked to increased risk of developing eating disorders.[iii]
Another area of study is brain imaging. Brain activity patterns are different between women who have eating disorders and those who don't.
Treatment of Eating Disorders
Because eating disorders are complicated, treatment is individualized. It usually involves different medical professional working as a team and can include:
Psychotherapy, individually, family, or group (others with eating disorders)
Complementary therapies, such as cognitive therapy, massage, acupuncture, etc.
Eating disorders are severe and can in some case be fatal. They are hard on families and affect all aspects of the patient's life. However, with a good team, patience, and a desire to be healthy, eating disorders can be overcome.
Speak with healthcare practitioners and professionals. The information is for educational purposes, it is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat any condition or recommend any therapy.
Ross Coker, Carolyn, MD. Integrative Medicine to Treat Eating Disorders (July 8, 2018). Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/integrative-medicine-to-treat-eating-disorders/
Eating Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/eating-disorders
Eating Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml
[i] Psychology Today, Eating Disorders. Web.
[ii] National Institute of Mental Health, Eating Disorders. Web
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