What is an eating disorder?
If you find yourself constantly worrying about your weight and thinking about
what you are or aren’t going to eat, you may have an unhealthy relationship with food. Thinking about food is a normal
part of living, but obsessing about food and body weight is not. Sometimes, abnormal and unhealthy eating behaviors develop
from obsessive attitudes about food and body image.
Eating disorders involve serious disturbances in eating, such as:
- not eating enough, starving yourself or limiting calories to an absurdly
- only eating certain things (for example, broccoli, white rice and popcorn)
at the expense of a nutritional and healthy diet
- eating unhealthy amounts of food in short periods of time
- taking drastic measures to reduce or maintain your body weight (binging;
purging through vomiting, diuretics or laxatives; excessive exercise)
You might think that your efforts to control your eating are a healthy way
to achieve the body you want, but if your eating habits consume your thoughts and dictate your social activities, things may
have gotten out of control. What may have started as a plan to lose a few pounds might have turned into unhealthy and destructive
Generally, eating disorders stem from self-critical and negative attitudes
about body shape and appearance, conflicting feelings about food (often it is seen as both a source of comfort and shame),
and unhealthy or extreme weight management practices and eating habits. Eating disorders significantly damage normal body
functioning and can be life-threatening.
What are the main types of eating disorders?
Currently, research and information focus on three main eating disorders:
anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.
- Anorexia is associated with a distorted body image; thinking you are fat
even though you are underweight. Serious health consequences can result from literal starvation. About 1% (or one out of 100)
women between the ages of 10 and 20 have anorexia.
- Bulimia is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating (rapid consumption
of food in a short period of time), and purging (self-induced vomiting or usage of laxatives). About 4% (or four out of one
hundred) of college-aged women have bulimia.
- Binge eating disorder refers to a pattern of consumption of large amounts
of food, even when a person is not hungry. About 1% of women have binge eating disorder, as well as 30% of women who seek
treatment to lose weight.
What are the risk factors for eating disorders?
You might have developed unhealthy eating habits in your efforts to control
or alleviate emotional difficulties. If you feel out of control because of internal conflict or circumstances beyond your
control, you might have unconsciously turned to food to ease your pain or exert some control over your life.
Common circumstances and risk factors that contribute to the development of
eating disorders include:
- Family problems or a troubled home life – Family instability can wreak
havoc on your sense of security. If the home is a place of yelling, violence or neglect, self esteem suffers. Additional problems
are caused by incompetent or neglectful parents. Taking on the responsibilities and problems of an adult, like paying bills
or watching younger siblings, can create feelings of powerlessness and insecurity.
- Major life changes – Most people, and particularly young people, are
comforted by a sense of predictability and security. When life changes suddenly and dramatically, it can seem very scary and
dangerous. Events that could have this effect include: divorce, death of a loved one, puberty, moving to a new place, starting
high school, etc.
- Romantic or social problems – Romantic problems and friendship instability
can cause significant upheaval and insecurity. Lack of perspective may cause a person to feel like a breakup is the end of
love and acceptance forever.
- Abuse or trauma – Physical or sexual abuse or other major trauma has
the potential to quickly erase your sense of self worth. Between one-third and two-thirds of patients who go to treatment
centers for eating disorders have experienced some type of abuse in the past.
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life
- Depression, anxiety, anger, or loneliness
- Painful emotions or stress
- Troubled family and personal relationships
- Difficulty expressing emotions and feelings
- History of being teased or ridiculed based on size or weight
- Cultural pressures that glorify "thinness" and obtaining the "perfect body"
- Narrow definitions of beauty that include only women and men of specific
body weights and shapes.
- Cultural norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance and
not inner qualities and strengths.
- In some individuals with eating disorders, the brain chemicals that control
hunger, appetite, and digestion may be imbalanced.
What are the physical and social effects of eating disorders?
If you have an eating disorder, you might not be aware of how much damage
you are doing to your body and self-esteem. Although different eating disorders have different physical and emotional effects,
all impair the body’s normal functioning, cause long term health concerns and significantly impact social and emotional
Social and emotional effects (some of which may also be causes)
- social isolation
- shame and guilt
- low self-esteem
- single-minded focus on appearance and weight
- lack of interest or involvement in other activities
- disinterest in school or work
- loss of menstrual periods
- dry, brittle bones due to significant bone density loss (osteoporosis)
- dry, brittle nails and hair; or hair loss
- lowered resistance to illness
- digestive problems such as bloating or constipation
- muscle loss and weakness
- severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure
- fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness
- long term health problems including heart trouble, low blood pressure, low
heart rate, low body temperature, poor circulation, anemia and stunted growth
For more information, please visit Helpguide's Anorexia: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, Effects, and Treatments.
- dehydration (can lead to irregular heartbeats, heart problems, and even death)
- inflammation of the esophagus from frequent vomiting
- tooth and gum problems
- bowel irregularity and constipation from laxative abuse
- vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- chronic kidney problems or failure
For more information, please visit Helpguide's Bulimia: Signs, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatments.
Binge eating disorder
- obesity and related health problems including high blood pressure, high cholesterol
levels, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, liver and kidney problems, certain types of cancer
- decreased mobility
- shortness of breath
For more information, please visit Helpguide's Binge Eating Disorder: Signs, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatments.
Who is most at risk to develop an eating disorder?
Adolescents and young adults are mostly like to develop an eating disorder,
but some research indicates that the onset can occur as young as childhood or later in adulthood.
Eating disorders affect males and females, all socio-economic classes
and ethnic groups. Statistically, women have more eating disorders than men, due to societal and cultural stereotypes that
favor thin women. However, eating disorders are not just a "woman’s problem." Males preoccupied with shape and weight
can also develop eating disorders as well as dangerous shape control practices like steroid use.
taken from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/eating_disorder_treatment.htm