An air of misconception prevails among many people that eating disorders is a lifestyle choice which one chooses for themselves. Many people are unaware about the severity of eating disorders. Eating disorders are very serious illnesses, which at times can turn out fatal. These disorders are related to people's eating behaviors and the underlying thoughts and emotions. Preoccupation with food, body weight, and shape may also indicate an eating disorder. Some common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
Signs and symptoms related to some eating disorders
Anorexia nervosa: This is a condition in which people avoid food, severely restrict food, or eat very small quantities of only certain foods. They also tend to show the habit of weighing themselves repeatedly. Even in situations where they are dangerously underweight, they tend to see themselves as overweight.
There are two subtypes of anorexia nervosa: a restrictive subtype and a binge-purge subtype. People with the restrictive subtype of anorexia nervosa severely limit the amount and type of food they consume. On the other hand, people with the binge-purge subtype of anorexia nervosa also greatly restrict the amount and type of food they consume. In addition, they may have binge-eating and purging episodes—eating large amounts of food in a short time followed by vomiting or using laxatives or diuretics to get rid of what was consumed.
Anorexia nervosa has an extremely high death (mortality) rate when compared with other mental disorders. People with anorexia possess risk of dying from medical complications associated with starvation. People who are diagnosed with anorexia nervosa tend to choose suicide a lot. It is the second leading cause of death for people diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.
Symptoms of anorexia nervosa may include: extremely restricted eating; extreme thinness (emaciation); a relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight; intense fear of gaining weight; distorted body image, a self-esteem that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape, or a denial of the seriousness of low body weight. Some other symptoms may develop over time, including: thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis); mild anemia and muscle wasting and weakness; brittle hair and nails; dry and yellowish skin; growth of fine hair all over the body (lanugo); severe constipation; low blood pressure; slowed breathing and pulse; damage to the structure and function of the heart; brain damage; multi organ failure; drop in internal body temperature, causing a person to feel cold all the time; lethargy, sluggishness, or feeling tired all the time, and even infertility.
Bulimia nervosa: This is a condition where people have recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food. Additionally they also feel a lack of control over these episodes. This binge-eating is followed by behaviors such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors, which compensates for the overeating. People with bulimia nervosa may be slightly underweight, normal weight, or over overweight.
The symptoms of Bulimia nervosa may include: chronically inflamed and sore throat; swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area; worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth as a result of exposure to stomach acid; acid reflux disorder and other gastrointestinal problems; intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse; severe dehydration from purging of fluids; electrolyte imbalance (too low or too high levels of sodium, calcium, potassium, and other minerals) which can lead to stroke or heart attack.
Binge-eating disorder is a condition where people lose control over their eating and have reoccurring episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food. Unlike bulimia nervosa, periods of binge-eating are not followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting. As a result, people with binge-eating disorder often are overweight or obese. Binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the U.S.
The symptoms may include: eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time, such as a 2-hour period; eating even when you're full or not hungry; eating fast during binge episodes; eating until you're uncomfortably full; eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment; feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about your eating; and frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss.
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), previously known as selective eating disorder, is a condition where people limit the amount or type of food eaten. Unlike anorexia nervosa, people with ARFID do not have a distorted body image or extreme fear of gaining weight. ARFID is most common in middle childhood and usually has an earlier onset than other eating disorders. Many children go through phases of picky eating, but a child with ARFID does not eat enough calories to grow and develop properly, and an adult with ARFID does not eat enough calories to maintain basic body function.
Symptoms may include: dramatic restriction of types or amount of food eaten; lack of appetite or interest in food; dramatic weight loss; upset stomach, abdominal pain, or other gastrointestinal issues with no other known cause; and limited range of preferred foods that becomes even more limited ("picky eating" that gets progressively worse).
People of all ages, racial/ethnic backgrounds, body weights, and genders are at risk of eating disorders. Teens and young adults are more likely to fall prey to eating disorders. However, this may also develop during childhood or later in one's life.
Researchers are finding that eating disorders are caused by a complex interaction of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors. Researchers are making use of the latest technology and science to better understand eating disorders.
A particular approach is making efforts to study the human genes. Eating disorders move over from inside a family. Researchers are thus continuing their study to identify DNA variations that are linked to the increased risk of developing eating disorders.
Researchers are also gaining a better understanding of eating disorders through brain imaging studies. For example, researchers have discovered differences in patterns of brain activity in women with eating disorders in comparison with healthy women. This kind of research can help guide the development of new means of diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders.
Treatments and Therapies
Early treatment is very important in terms of eating disorders. These people are in the group of suicide urges and medical complications. They can also have other mental disorders such as depression or anxiety, or even problems with substance use. Complete recovery is possible.
Treatment plans are tailored to individual needs and may include one or more of the following: individual, group, and/or family psychotherapy, medical care and monitoring, nutritional counseling and medications:
Family-based therapy is a type of psychotherapy in which parents of adolescents with anorexia nervosa assume responsibility for feeding their child. This has appeared to be very effective in helping people gain weight and improve eating habits and moods.
To reduce or eliminate binge-eating and purging behaviors, people may undergo cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is another type of psychotherapy that helps a person learn how to identify distorted or unhelpful thinking patterns and recognize and change inaccurate beliefs.
Medical analysis and research has also indicated that medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers may be helpful for treating eating disorders and other co-occurring illnesses such as anxiety or depression.
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