Eating Disorders

ABOUT

Eating disorders are a group of serious conditions in which you’re so preoccupied with food and weight that you can often focus on little else. The main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder and a newly termed disorder known as orthorexia.

Eating disorders can cause serious physical problems, and at their most severe can even be life-threatening. Most people with eating disorders are females, but males can also have eating disorders. An exception is binge-eating disorder, which appears to affect almost as many males as females.

 

TYPES

ANOREXIA NERVOSA is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.

Symptoms include:

  • Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for height, body type, age, and activity level
  • Intense fear of weight gain or being “fat”
  • Feeling “fat” or overweight despite dramatic weight loss
  • Loss of menstrual periods
  • Extreme concern with body weight and shape

BULIMIA NERVOSA is characterized by a secretive cycle of binge eating followed by purging. Bulimia includes eating large amounts of food–more than most people would eat in one meal–in short periods of time, then getting rid of the food and calories through vomiting, laxative abuse, or over-exercising.

Symptoms include:

  • Repeated episodes of bingeing and purging
  • Feeling out of control during a binge and eating beyond the point of comfortable fullness
  • Purging after a binge, (typically by self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives, diet pills and/or diuretics, excessive exercise, or fasting)
  • Frequent dieting
  • Extreme concern with body weight and shape

BINGE EATING DISORDER (also known as COMPULSIVE OVEREATING) is characterized primarily by periods of uncontrolled, impulsive, or continuous eating beyond the point of feeling comfortably full. While there is no purging, there may be sporadic fasts or repetitive diets and often feelings of shame or self-hatred after a binge. People who overeat compulsively may struggle with anxiety, depression, and loneliness, which can contribute to their unhealthy episodes of binge eating. Body weight may vary from normal to mild, moderate, or severe obesity.

ORTHOREXIA is defined as an obsession with “healthy or righteous eating”. The term refers to people who create severely limited diets in the name of healthy eating. It often begins with someone’s simple and genuine desire to live a healthy lifestyle. A person with orthorexia will be obsessed with defining and maintaining the perfect diet, rather than an ideal weight. She will fixate on eating foods that give her a feeling of being pure and healthy. An orthorexic may avoid numerous foods, including those made with:

  • Artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
  • Pesticides or genetic modification
  • Fat, sugar or salt
  • Animal or dairy products
  • Other ingredients considered to be unhealthy

 

CAUSES

A variety of possible genetic, medical, psychological and environmental factors can influence eating disorders. They may include:

  • Genetic (or hereditary) factors
  • Neurochemical differences
  • Biologic changes that occur secondary to weight loss and malnutrition
  • Individuals with certain temperament or personality features, such as perfectionism and obsessionality, may be more susceptible to developing eating disorders.
  • Conflicting social messages about nutrition and extreme thinness can influence the development and treatment of eating disorders.

 

TREATMENTS

Treatments for eating disorders usually involve:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Nutrition education
  • Family counseling
  • Medications
  • Hospitalization