Eating Disorders: Causes, Symptoms, Signs & Treatment Help
What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating Disorders describe illnesses that are characterized by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight or shape. Eating disturbances may include inadequate or excessive food intake which can ultimately damage an individual’s well-being. The most common forms of eating disorders include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder and affect both females and males.
Demi Lovato speaks about her eating disorder. As posted by I Choose People
Eating disorders can develop during any stage in life but typically appear during the teen years or young adulthood. Classified as a medical illness, appropriate treatment can be highly effectual for many of the specific types of eating disorders. Although these conditions are treatable, the symptoms and consequences can be detrimental and deadly if not addressed.
Eating disorders commonly coexist with other conditions, such as anxiety disorders, substance abuse, or depression.
Types of Eating Disorders
The three most common types of Eating Disorders are as follows:
- Anorexia Nervosa-The male or female suffering from anorexia nervosa will typically have an obsessive fear of gaining weight, refusal to maintain a healthy body weight, and an unrealistic perception of body image. Many people with anorexia nervosa will fiercely limit the quantity of food they consume and view themselves as overweight, even when they are clearly underweight. Anorexia can have damaging health effects, such as brain damage, multi-organ failure, bone loss, heart difficulties, and infertility. The risk of death is highest in individuals with this disease.
- Bulimia Nervosa-This eating disorder is characterized by repeated binge eating followed by behaviors that compensate for the overeating, such as forced vomiting, excessive exercise, or extreme use of laxatives or diuretics. Men and women who suffer with Bulimia may fear weight gain and feel severely unhappy with their body size and shape. The binge-eating and purging cycle is typically done in secret, creating feelings of shame, guilt, and lack of control. Bulimia can have injuring effects, such as gastrointestinal problems, severe hydration, and heart difficulties resulting from an electrolyte imbalance.
- Binge Eating Disorder- Individuals who suffer from Binge Eating Disorder will frequently lose control over his or her eating. Different from bulimia nervosa however, episodes of binge-eating are not followed by compensatory behaviors, such as purging, fasting, or excessive exercise. Because of this, many people suffering with binge-eating disorder may be obese and at an increased risk of developing other conditions, such as cardiovascular disease. Men and women who struggle with this disorder may also experience intense feelings of guilt, distress, and embarrassment related to their binge-eating, which could influence further progression of the eating disorder.
Causes of Eating Disorders
Eating Disorders are complex disorders, influenced by a facet of factors. Though the exact cause of eating disorders is unknown, it is generally believed that a combination of biological, psychological,and/or environmental abnormalities contribute to the development of these illnesses.
Examples of biological factors include:
- Irregular hormone functions
- Genetics (the tie between eating disorders and one’s genes is still being heavily researched, but we know that genetics is a part of the story).
- Nutritional deficiencies
Examples of psychological factors include:
- Negative body image
- Poor self-esteem
Examples of environmental factors that would contribute to the occurrence of eating disorders are:
- Dysfunctional family dynamic
- Professions and careers that promote being thin and weight loss, such as ballet and modeling
- Aesthetically oriented sports, where an emphasis is placed on maintaining a lean body for enhanced performance. Examples include: rowing, diving, ballet, gymnastics, wrestling, long distance running.
- Family and childhood traumas: childhood sexual abuse, severe trauma
- Cultural and/or peer pressure among friends and co-workers
- Stressful transitions or life changes
Signs & Symptoms of an Eating Disorder
A man or woman suffering from an eating disorder may reveal several signs and symptoms, some which are:
- Chronic dieting despite being hazardously underweight
- Constant weight fluctuations
- Obsession with calories and fat contents of food
- Engaging in ritualistic eating patterns, such as cutting food into tiny pieces, eating alone, and/or hiding food
- Continued fixation with food, recipes, or cooking; the individual may cook intricate meals for others but refrain from partaking
- Depression or lethargic stage
- Avoidance of social functions, family and friends. May become isolated and withdrawn
- Switching between periods of overeating and fasting
Treatment for an Eating Disorder
Because of the severity and complexities of these conditions, a comprehensive and professional treatment team specializing in eating disorders is often fundamental in establishing healing and recovery. Treatment plans are utilized in addressing the many concerns a man or woman may be facing in the restoration of their health and well-being and are often tailored to meet individual needs. Treatment for an eating disorder is usually comprised with one or more of the following and addressed with medical doctors, nutritionists, and therapists for complete care:
- Medical Care and Monitoring-The highest concern in the treatment of eating disorders is addressing any health issues that may have been a consequence of eating disordered behaviors.
- Nutrition: This would involve weight restoration and stabilization, guidance for normal eating, and the integration of an individualized meal plan.
- Therapy: Different forms of psychotherapy, such as individual, family, or group, can be helpful in addressing the underlying causes of eating disorders. Therapy is a fundamental piece of treatment because it affords an individual in recovery the opportunity to address and heal from traumatic life events and learn healthier coping skills and methods for expressing emotions, communicating and maintaining healthy relationships.
- Medications: Some medications may be effective in helping resolve mood or anxiety symptoms that can occur with an eating disorder or in reducing binge-eating and purging behaviors.
Varying levels of treatment, ranging from outpatient support groups to inpatient eating disorder centers, are available and based on the severity of the eating disorder. In any case, recognizing and addressing the eating disorder are crucial in being able to begin treatment.
Eating Disorder Articles
- Do siblings have an influence on each other and can they have an impact on developing an eating disorder? How does a younger sister view an older sister in the clutches of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating? Does she admire how skinny the older sister is?
- Female Athlete Triad Syndrome is a dangerous illness that can cause women who are extreme in their sports to have life long health concerns. Their coaches, friends and family need to pay attention and help prevent the athlete from developing Female Athlete Triad Syndrome.
- Major life changes can be a trigger to those fighting an eating disorder. Beginning college is no exception. The young man or woman is leaving home, friends, and family to venture off to the unknown. College can be challenging and difficult for all students, but more so for others. This progression into adulthood is often a significant life altering event, and this can sadly trigger or lead to an eating disorder.
- Eating disorders are more commonly associated with Caucasian females who are well-educated and from the upper socio-economic class. Eating disorders are also viewed as a western world affliction and not commonly related to other ethnic groups. This is not an accurate assumption. Eating disorders are prevalent in many different cultures and have been for a long time. This just continues to prove there are areno barriers when it comes to eating disorders. Males, females, Caucasians, African Americans, Asian Americans and Mexican Americans all can struggle with eating disorders.
- According to the National Eating Disorders Association, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) are at a higher risk of developing eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia. Gay and bisexual men who are single tend to feel more pressure to be thin and resort to restrictive eating disorders while those in a relationship turn to bulimia. Women in the lesbian and bisexual community still struggle with eating disorders similar to most heterosexual women with eating disorders, but lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to have mood disorders.
- There is no such thing as the perfect dancer. Female ballet dancers work very hard at their craft, but often find themselves in the throes of an eating disorder. Ballet dancers have long been known to develop eating disorders, and this can, to a degree, be understood because the dancer stands in front of a large mirror during practice and compares herself to all of her peers. In addition, it does not help that the ballet dancing environment is extremely obsessed with weight. To read more about Ballet Dancing and Eating Disorders, please click here.
- Is vegetarianism contributing to eating disorders? Currently, just about five percent of Americans define themselves as vegetarian (a person who removes meat and animal products from their diet). This percentage does not include those who consider themselves to be “quasi-vegetarians” (people who eat some animal-based products but primarily rely on a plant-based diet). Vegetarianism is much more prevalent for those who struggle with eating disorders. About half of the patients fighting an eating disorder practice some form of vegetarian diet. For more information, please click this link.
- In addressing the many medical complications of an eating disorder, the more urgent concerns typically take priority, such as malnourishment or an unstable heart beat. However, some of the health consequences related to eating disorders affect the individual in the long term, even if they aren’t more apparent or obvious. Bone loss, or osteoporosis, is a silent but debilitating condition that commonly impacts women with eating disorders, such as Anorexia Nervosa. If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, read this article to learn more about ways you can prevent and treat bone density loss and eating disorders
- With the mass amount of misguided information about eating disorders, it is common for these serious illnesses to be misunderstood, oversimplified, or greatly generalized. The truth of the matter is that Eating Disorders are complex diseases caused by a multitude of factors. Men or women who struggle with an eating disorder have a serious mental illness with potentially life-threatening consequences. Understanding the implications of eating disorders can help increase awareness about ways to get help. Read this article to learn the myths vs. facts about eating disorders, which are serious mental conditions.
- In the rapid evolution of our society today, advances in technology have dictated the course of human interactions. The way we interface with one another is largely hinged on the capacities that have developed throughout the years. Face-to-face connections are often pushed aside for text messaging, emails, and the like. What has been lost and sacrificed in the name of convenience and expediency? Read more here.
- The media can be a culprit for generating images that falsify the reality of human bodies, but what drives an individual to idealize the representation of body perfection? As scientists unfold the blueprint of our genetic make-up, it is evident that both environment and genetics play an integral role in the formation of body image. Read more here.
- While the transition to college is an exciting time for young adults, full of opportunities for independence and self-discovery, it also comes with an array of stressors. It’s often the first time a young adult lives apart from their primary support system. Learn about how college life (and especially as an athlete) can put people at risk for eating disorders.
- Anyone who has any experience with doing battle with an eating disorder knows the challenge of wrestling with their “demons” and regaining control of their lives. I can’t think of any time more difficult than free time from work or school, aka summer vacation. This is when most of us can find ourselves even more focused on body image and hear our ED talking loudest to us.
- For individuals struggling with an eating disorder spurred from pressures or dysfunctions in their family, this summer break readjustment is exacerbated. For most, home is a loving and safe environment. However, for some, home may have been different.
- In the treatment of eating disorders, mirror neurons play an interesting role. Often those with a disorder such as anorexia tend to experience rigidity and inflexibility in their thoughts and actions.The way they conduct their lives is often through a very black and white perspective. This is particularly evident in their perceptions of food and food consumption.
- Most college students have been primed on how not to gain the “freshman 15.” But they likely haven’t been primed on just how dangerous it can be to try and avoid gaining those 15 pounds as a freshman, or primed on the red flag warning signs of an eating disorder.
Page Last Reviewed and Updated By : Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on
April 19, 2014
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Eating Disorder Information Help & Resources
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