Eating disorders are psychological conditions with both emotional and physical symptoms. The disorders include anorexia nervosa (voluntary starvation), bulimia nervosa (binge-eating followed by purging), binge-eating disorder (binge-eating without purging), and unspecified eating disorders (disordered eating that does not fit into another category). Eating disorders occur frequently—but not exclusively—in affluent cultures. A disproportionate number of those diagnosed are young women in their teens and 20s, but anyone, including young men and older adults, can develop an eating disorder at any age. Among the most baffling of conditions, eating disorders take on a life of their own so that eating, or not eating, becomes the focus of everyday existence.

I was 20 years old when my eating disorder began. I didn’t have a clue as to what I was getting into. I had been losing weight the proper healthy way. One of my sisters came over to visit and commented on my weightloss. She said “what are you doing throwing up?” I had no idea what she was referring to and so she explained about bulimia. I had never heard of it before then and thought what a great way to loose weight. She was doing it herself and put the idea in my head and so it all began. I managed to throw up almost everything I ate and got very skinny the unhealthy way. I was down to a size three at one point. I was 5’4” and weighed 108 lbs.

My husband and I were trying to have children and it never occured to me that what I was doing was harming our chances to start a family. I had lost 4 pregnancies before I finally got pregnant and had proper treatment and was able to carry a child to term. This took us seven years of heartache and a great doctor.

I thought I was ok but over the years it took over me. It becomes an addiction to binge and purge. There is nothing safe about this method of weight loss. It is very unhealthy and damaging to your teeth and overall health.

Eating disorders are relatively common occurrences in wealthy, industrialized countries, affecting up to 2 percent of women and approximately 0.8 percent of men. They are characterized by a persistent disturbance of eating patterns that leads to poor physical and/or psychological health.

Eating is an activity essential to survival, and the body has many built-in mechanisms that regulate appetite and eating. Eating patterns are normally influenced by many factors, environmental as well as biological, and cultural too. The causes of eating disorders are multiply influenced and complex.

Disordered eating patterns can be caused by feelings of distress or concern about body shape or weight, and they harm normal body composition and function. A person with an eating disorder may have started out just eating smaller or larger amounts of food than usual, but at some point, the urge to eat less or more can spiral out of control and the maladaptive patterns of eating take on a life of their own.

Given the complexity of eating disorders, considerable scientific research has been conducted in an effort to understand them, yet the biological, behavioral, and social underpinnings of the illnesses remain elusive. Eating disorders frequently develop during adolescence or early adulthood, but onset during childhood or later in adulthood is not unknown. Many adolescents are able to hide disordered eating behaviors from their family for months or years.

Treatment is never simple for these conditions. They often create multiple medical problems and can even be acutely life-threatening, requiring hospitalization and forced nourishment. It can take a multidisciplinary team of health professionals, including a psychotherapist, a medical doctor, and a specialized dietitian or nutritionist to bring about full recovery in someone with an eating disorder.

Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder marked by an extreme obsession with weight loss or exercise. It is especially prevalent among young to middle-aged women and, increasingly, among young men, but it can affect anyone at any age.

Characterized by a distorted sense of body image and extreme voluntary starvation or over exercising, and closely associated with perfectionism and depression, it is the most deadly psychiatric disorder. The most common behavioral signs of anorexia include extreme dieting, obsessive food rituals, and secretive and antisocial behavior.

Anorexia is highly resistant to treatment and is often accompanied by anxiety and depression. Treatment may include cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, nutrition education and mangagement, and family-based therapies, all of which may take place at specialized eating-disorder centers. If the condition becomes life-threatening, the only recourse may be hospitalization with forced feeding, which may create ethical and legal dilemmas for all caregivers involved. 

Bulimia

The eating disorder known as bulimia nervosa is marked by frequent cycles of binge-eating excessive amounts of food in one sitting and then purging the food, usually by self-induced vomiting but sometimes by the use of laxatives or diuretics or nonpurging compensatory behaviors, such as fasting or overexercising. The disorder typically begins during adolescence and it can be difficult to identify because those with bulimia are often secretive about their eating and purging habits. 

Although many people with bulimia are overweight, they generally have an intense fear of weight gain and often suffer anxiety, depression, and poor self-esteem. Some signs of bulimia include unusual eating behaviors, constant weight fluctuation, frequent use of the bathroom, and avoidance of social events. Treatment usually includes cognitive-behavioral or other forms of psychotherapy, antidepressant medication, and nutrition counseling.

 Binge Eating

Binge-eating disorder is marked by recurrent episodes of extreme overeating not accompanied by compensatory behavior; as a result, those with the disorder are usually overweight to obese. People with this disorder tend to eat much more rapidly than normal and don’t stop until feeling uncomfortably full. They may consume large amounts of food even when they’re not hungry. They often eat alone because of shame or embarrassment over their eating behaviors. To be considered a disorder, these behaviors must occur at least two days a week for six months or more.

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