Eating disorders -- such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder - include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. Eating disorders are serious emotional and physical problems that can have life-threatening consequences for females and males. . There are several contributing factors that may lead to the emergence of an eating disorder although no defined cause has been established. Contributing factors include:
Biological factors- Eating disorders often run in families. The risk of developing an eating disorder is 50-80% determined by genetics.
Social factors- Unrealistic pressures to obtain the "perfect" body; the constant influx of images of perfection; and narrow definitions of beauty.
Psychological factors- substantial co-morbidity and other mental health disorders - i.e. depression, anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, low self-esteem; and feelings of lack of control
Interpersonal factors- history of abuse, being teased for size or weight, traumatic life event(s), and difficulty expressing feelings and emotions.
There are three main types of eating disorders:
1. Anorexia nervosa-
This is characterized by weight loss often due to excessive dieting and exercise, sometimes to the point of starvation. People with anorexia feel they can never be thin enough and continue to see themselves as "fat" despite extreme weight loss.
Signs of Anorexia
People with anorexia nervosa have an extreme fear of gaining weight. They often diet and exercise relentlessly, sometimes to the point of starvation. About one-third to one-half of anorexics also binge and purge by vomiting or misusing laxatives. People with anorexia have a distorted body image, thinking they are overweight when in fact they are underweight.
2. Bulimia nervosa-
The condition is marked by cycles of extreme overeating, known as bingeing, followed by purging or other behaviors to compensate for the overeating. It is also associated with feelings of loss of control about eating.
Signs of Bulimia Nervosa
Repeated binge eating, or eating larger amounts of food than most people would in a similar situation, in a short period of time (2 hours or less). People with Bulimia Nervosa also feel a loss of control over how much they eat.
3. Binge eating disorder-
This is characterized by regular episodes of extreme overeating and feelings of loss of control about eating.
Signs of Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is more accurately characterized by its emotional symptoms like- Lack of control once one begins to eat, depression, grief, anxiety, shame, disgust or self-hatred about eating behaviors.
Many individuals who struggle with binge eating also may have particular foods that trigger binge episodes. Foods that are higher in carbohydrates and fats can cause the release of the hormone serotonin in the brain, which can induce pleasurable feelings. For this reason, people who are dealing with binge eating disorder often gravitate towards foods with these components, either for comfort or as a means of escaping from difficult situations.
Treatment for Eating Disorders
No simple cure exists for eating disorders, but treatment is available, and recovery is possible. Through a combination of therapy, nutritional education and medical treatment, the symptoms of an eating disorder can be managed or eliminated. Unfortunately, only one in 10 people with an eating disorder receives treatment, but true recovery is possible.
The most effective and long-lasting treatment for an eating disorder is some form of psychotherapy or psychological counseling, coupled with careful attention to medical and nutritional needs. Ideally, this treatment should be tailored to the individual and will vary according to both the severities of the disorder and the patient's particular problems, needs, and strengths.