Eating disorders are not, as many people mistakenly think, a lifestyle choice. Eating disorders can be very serious, even life-threatening. They are actually mental health disorders that effect eating behavior. The existence of eating disorders may be signaled by body weight and positive or negative obsessions with food. Binge-eating, bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa are three of the most common eating disorders.


Signs and Symptoms


Anorexia nervosa


Anorexia Nervosa focuses on one's body image. Most often those with this disorder imagine themselves as being overweight, despite the fact that they may actually be underweight. A behavioral characteristic of those with anorexia is repeatedly weighing themselves. Imagining themselves to be overweight, they limit severely the amount of food they eat, only eat small amounts of food, or only eat certain kinds of food. The seriousness of this disorder may be seen in the fact that it has the highest mortality rate of any of the other mental disorders. Those suffering from this disorder most often die from the effects of starvation, although suicide incidence , also, is high, especially with women.


Acute symptoms may include:


  • Highly restricted eating behaviors

  • Emaciation, a state of being extremely thin

  • Constant concern with and focus on being and staying thin

  • Inability to establish and maintain a healthy, normal weight

  • Extreme fear of gaining weight.

  • Distortions in self-image

  • Self-esteem directly related to perceptions of the individual's body shape and weight

  • A denial of the potential problems associated with low body weight.

  • Intense fear of gaining weight




Additional symptoms developing with the passage of time:


  • Osteopenia or osteoporosis

  • Mild forms of anemia

  • Weakness and muscle wasting

  • Hair and fingernails that are brittle

  • Yellowing and/or dry skin

  • The growth of fine hair on the body

  • Regular and obstinate constipation

  • Damages to the heart structure and function

  • Brain damages

  • The failure of one or more organs

  • A decrease in body temperature, associated with feeling cold all of the time

  • Regular feelings of tiredness, sluggishness, and lethargy

  • Lack of reproductive fertility


Bulimia nervosa


Bulemia Nervosa is characterized by frequent and recurring spells of easing unusually large amount of food accompanied by no control over this behavior. The episodes of overeating are followed by compensating behaviors, such as vomiting and the use of laxatives, the use of diuretics, excessive exercise, fasting, and/or some combination of these activities. Bulemics often maintain a normal and healthy body wight, unlike people with anorexia.


Typical symptoms include:


  • Persistent inflamed sore throat

  • Swelling in neck and jaw salivary glands

  • Tooth enamel that is worn along with sensitive and often-decaying teeth demonstrating regular exposure to stomach acid.

  • Acid reflux, GERD, or other gastrointestinal complaints.

  • Intestinal pains and problems relating to overuse of laxatives

  • Dehydration

  • Imbalance in electrolytes leading possibly to stroke or heart attack.


Binge-eating disorder


Binge-Eating is demonstrated by having no control over eating. These episodes of overeating are not followed by any of the characteristics of bulemia, such as laxative use, excessive exercising, or fasting. People suffering from the binge-eating disorder are often fat or excessively obese. It is, perhaps, not surprising than binge-eating is the most common eating disorder in the U.S.


Typical symptoms are:


  • Eating an excessive amount of food within a particular period of time.

  • Eating while feeling full

  • Eating despite not feeling hungry.

  • Rapid eating behavior.

  • Eating until the point of feeling uncomfortable

  • Frequent eating while alone.

  • Eating in secret

  • Eating accompanied by feelings of guilt, distress. or shame

  • Frequent dieting but without significant loss of weight


Risk Factors


The highest time of risk in the life cycle is in the teenage years, followed by childhood, but sometimes later in life. Both men and women are subject to eating disorders, but women are more than twice as likely to develop eating disorders than men. Both men and women have problems in their perception of body image. Women may be focused on loosing weight to become thin, while men may focus on gaining more muscle.


The causation of eating disorders is complex, involving interactions in genetic makeup, biological, social, and psychological factors.


Treatments and Therapies


Critical in therapies for people with eating disorders is assistance in establishing optimal weight levels while, at the same time, developing food and eating coping and management strategies that are effective and long lasting. Treatment plans for eating disorders may focus on one or more of the following:


  • Individual psychotherapy

  • Family psychotherapy

  • Medical intervention and monitoring

  • Counseling in nutrition

  • Cognitive behavioral training

  • Psychodynamic therapy,

  • Crisis intervention therapy,

  • Psychoanalysis”