Eating disorders affect millions of people in this country. The onset of an eating disorder usually occurs in adolescence or in the early years of adulthood. Eating disorders most frequently affect females, but males can also be afflicted. An eating disorder is an illness that is characterized by a compulsion to eat in a manner that is detrimental to a person’s physical and mental health. Eating disorders can be exhibited through excessive eating, binge eating, or restrictive eating. Persons afflicted with an eating disorder are generally suffering from a psychological condition that contributes, or facilitates, the illness. Depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders, and addiction are the most common mental conditions that contribute to the development of an eating disorder.
There are several types of eating disorders. The three most common are Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge eating disorder (also known as compulsive overeating).
- Anorexia is a condition that causes the individual to severely restrict his/her eating. Individuals suffering from anorexia are usually striving to attain perfection. By regulating eating in this restrictive manner, the individual feels more in control of their life. The person will suffer from low self-esteem and base their feelings of self worth on how successfully their eating was regulated throughout the day. Individuals believe themselves to be overweight regardless of their actual weight. Signs/Symptoms of a person suffering from this condition include unusual eating habits, discomfort associated with food, restriction of food choices, guilt/shame about eating, fatigue/muscle weakness, excessive exercise, always feeling cold, and noticeable weight loss.
- Bulimia sufferers fear weight gain, have a strong desire to lose weight, and are extremely dissatisfied with their bodies. The bulimic individual will suffer from episodes of binge eating, consuming an excess of 1000 to 10000 calories at a time and experience a lack of control over their eating during this period. In an effort to prevent weight gain, bulimic sufferers will compensate by purging their bodies of the unwanted calories. Purging behaviors will include vomiting, use of laxatives, diuretics, and enemas, fasting, and excessive periods of exercise. Purging rituals are usually performed in secrecy.
- Binge eating disorders are characterized by episodes of uncontrolled eating. Individuals suffering from this type of eating disorder will eat more quickly than what is considered normal, will eat until uncomfortably full, and will eat large amounts of food even when not feeling hungry. Persons with this disorder will experience feelings of self-disgust, depression, and guilt. Many individuals suffering from this illness do not purge the excess calories and will be overweight.
Eating disorders are a serious medical problem that requires medical help in order to recover. Many sufferers will not seek out help because of a fear of weight gain and being force fed. Others are ashamed of their condition. Evidence has been found that suggests that physiological conditions may also contribute to eating disorders. It is important that individuals suffering from eating disorders obtain help as early as possible to avoid long term health deterioration and damage. Without help, a person with an eating disorder can suffer health problems that will lead to death.