Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, like anorexia and binge eating, are surprisingly common in the United States. If you have not had an eating disorder yourself or have never known anyone with an eating disorder, then you might have quite a flippant attitude towards the issue.

After all, it can be easy to wrongfully assume someone who binge eats is bringing the problem on himself or herself. You may think the person simply needs to regulate his or her eating to solve the problem. Unfortunately, things are not that simple. Food avoidance, binge eating and purging are serious mental disorders that need to be treated in the same way as any other health problem would be treated.

Educating yourself about the various types of eating disorders and their recommended treatments can go a long way toward understanding this very real mental illness. If you suspect that you may have an eating disorder or you are worried that a friend or loved one may be suffering from one, then the following information can help you make an informed decision. However, getting mental health treatment from a medical professional is strongly recommended. Eating disorders can be managed with proper care.

What are eating disorders?

There is a common misconception about eating disorders. Many people view an eating disorder as being a lifestyle choice when the disorders are actually complicated mental illnesses that affect health, relationships and productivity. Eating disorders can be very serious, to the extent that they can even be fatal.

People hurt their bodies when they eat too much, too little or not at all. If you spend much of your time thinking about your weight and your body shape, then you could have an eating disorder. These disorders are bio-psycho-social diseases. They are not simple fads. Therefore, if you suspect you may have an eating disorder, then you should see a doctor in order to get help. The earlier you receive treatment, the more likely it is you can fully recover.

Although women are more affected, anyone can have an eating disorder. It is much more common than you may think. In fact, 10 million men and 20 million women suffer from eating disorders at some time in their lives in the U.S.

What types of eating disorders are there?

Three types of eating disorder exist including bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. Most individuals with an eating disorder exhibit signs and symptoms of mental health issues relating to food. However, some people can hide the problem from friends and family members.

Anorexia nervosa, which is often known as just “anorexia,” is very dangerous. In fact, this eating disorder is more fatal than any other mental health condition. People with anorexia usually see themselves as being overweight when they are actually severely underweight. Anorexics tend to weigh themselves obsessively and restrict their diet to eating very small quantities of food. People with anorexia often die from problems associated with starvation, which could be prevented with hospitalization for mental health issues. Many also commit suicide. Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include the following:

  • A lot of weight loss
  • Extreme thinness
  • Extreme restrictions in eating
  • An obsessive fear of gaining weight
  • An obsession with pursuing thinness and being unwilling to maintain a healthy body weight
  • Having a distorted body image
  • Excessive and obsessive exercising
  • Missing menstrual periods
  • Unusual physical changes such as a yellowing of the skin
  • Severe constipation

Bulimia nervosa, often just called “bulimia,” involves frequently eating abnormally large amounts of food followed by behavior that tries to compensate for the overeating, such as self-inducing vomiting, using laxatives excessively and exercising excessively. People with bulimia nervosa usually maintain a relatively normal body weight, unlike anorexia nervosa. There are serious health problems caused by bulimia, such as damaging your teeth, stomach, throat and heart. Bulimia symptoms include the following:

  • Extreme dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalance, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as acid reflux disorder
  • A chronically inflamed throat
  • Swollen glands in the jaw and neck
  • Wearing of tooth enamel
  • Intestinal irritation

Binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States. Binge eating means you lose control over your eating by digesting an abnormally large amount of food in one sitting. The binge eating is not followed by purging, such as vomiting, like bulimia. Therefore, people with binge-eating disorder are usually overweight or medically obese. Binge eating is a very serious disorder. You can get many conditions that come from being overweight, such as heart disease and diabetes. Symptoms of binge eating include the following:

  • Eating unusually large amounts of food in a very short time
  • Feeling guilty or distressed about eating
  • Eating very quickly
  • Eating until you are so full that it is uncomfortable
  • Eating when you are not hungry or full
  • Eating alone, secretly
  • Frequent dieting without losing weight

People should keep in mind that eating disorders may be comorbid with other mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.

Children With Eating Disorders

If you have children, then you will obviously want them to be in the best physical and mental health possible. Unfortunately, approximately 2.2 million adolescents in the United States suffer from eating disorders. Some mental health advice for parents is to make sure their children eat sensibly, healthily and regularly to counter any problems before they begin. All human beings need food and water to live but it is even more important children eat right, as they are still growing and developing.

Many children, particularly teenagers, are concerned about their body image. Although that can be a normal part of going through the puberty process when your body is changing rapidly, for many adolescents that problem can become severe. Many adolescents become so obsessed about their weight that they will develop eating disorders. You can help your children avoid getting an eating disorder by making sure they eat healthily and sensibly, but also by giving them encouragement about their appearance and building their self-esteem. Some parents choose to advocate for their children at school through the encouragement of support groups and anti-bullying policies.

How do you treat eating disorders?

The good news is eating disorders are treatable. Depending on the type of eating disorder and the needs of the person, treatments can include medication, nutrition counseling, talk therapy and cognitive behavior therapy, which helps the person undergoing the therapy to identify distorted thinking patterns.

Treatment of eating disorders addresses the symptoms and medical problems that can arise. Care is usually provided by multiple professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians and dieticians. Lots of people with eating disorders respond well to outpatient therapies. Support groups can also be very beneficial. Inpatient care, such as being hospitalized, can happen when the eating disorder leads to life-threatening physical health problems or when the disorder causes severe behavioral and psychological problems.

At the end of the day, the treatment depends on the specific circumstances of the person. If you think you may have a problem or you know someone who may have an eating disorder, then it is vital that professional help is sought as soon as possible. There are many health care professionals who specialize in treating and dealing only with eating disorders.

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