Eating Disorders

eating1Eating disorders commonly develop during adolescence or early adulthood and can put a person at risk of serious health consequences. People with anorexia or bulimia frequently experience social isolation, feelings of self-disgust, shame and guilt, fear of change, and feelings of inadequacy and rejection. This can mean the person becomes lonely, desperate and depressed and may withdraw from contact with friends. People with eating disorders frequently do not admit or recognise they have an illness, and may resist or delay getting treatment, particularly if they feel otherwise physically well. But sometimes family or trusted individuals may be able to encourage people with eating disorders to receive appropriate care and rehabilitation. Due to this ‘lack of insight’ into one’s own difficulties, Eating Disorders often remain undiagnosed and individuals do not receive the help they deserve. Eating Disorders are an area within mental health disturbances where treatment often is necessary, despite the individuals’ protests that “all is fine”.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa includes physical and emotional symptoms such as:

  • an intense fear of becoming fat or putting on weight – even if already underweight
  • distorted views of weight or shape image
  • denying the seriousness of extremely low body weight
  • resistance to maintaining a normal body weight
  • severe sensitivity to cold
  • growth of down-like body hair
  • infrequent or no menstrual periods in females who have reached puberty
  • irritability, inability to concentrate/think clearly
  • obstinate behaviour, unhappiness, depression.

People with Anorexia often start with dieting, which develops into an obsession to control food intake. They develop obsessive eating habits such as avoiding eating, eating only small amounts of certain foods, or extremely careful weighing and measuring of their food, despite suffering hunger pangs. Other habits to maintain low body weight may also include frequent, intense exercise and purging mechanisms such as forced vomiting, and abuse of laxatives, enemas and diuretics. Girls with Anorexia Nervosa often experience delayed onset of their periods.

Bulimia Nervosa

The key characteristics of this disorder include bingeing (the intake of large quantities of food) and purging (elimination of the food through artificial means such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives, periods of fasting, or excessive exercise). Bulimia often begins as rigid dieting that leads to poor nutrition, hunger and fatigue. This can later develop into an out-of-control cycle of rapid binging on extraordinary amounts of high calorie food – such as ice cream or pastries – often followed by purging. Eating may be triggered by psychosocial stress and can occur several times in one day. Between these bouts, most people with Bulimia can accept some healthy nutrition. Unlike Anorexia Nervosa, most women are usually of normal weight for their height and age. Bulimia has been defined as two binge-eating episodes a week for at least three months, although sensible steps to remedy the illness can be taken earlier. Patients tend to be more aware and remorseful about their eating behaviour and less likely to deny it, compared to people suffering from Anorexia.

People with Bulimia compensate for their eating episodes by self-induced vomiting, laxative or diuretic misuse, fasting or excessive exercise. They often feel ashamed when they binge and relieved when they purge. Bulimic eating and purging behaviour often occurs in secret, and is sometimes hard to identify because of this extreme secrecy. As with Anorexia Nervosa, people with Bulimia may fear gaining weight or want to lose weight, and may feel intensely unhappy with their bodies – however, most tend to fluctuate around their normal body weight, although some people may be obese. Most health complications from bulimia occur because of purging.

Binge-eating Disorder

People with Binge-Eating Disorder have frequent episodes of unrestrained eating in a rapid and short period of time, but, unlike people with bulimia, do not follow this eating pattern with purging or excessive exercise. Binge-Eating Disorder is a quite newly-recognised eating behaviour. It has been defined as an average figure of binge-eating episodes for at least two days a week during a six-month period. Many people with this disorder are overweight and the accompanying feelings of distress, shame, self-disgust or guilt often create a cycle of binge eating.