People with eating disorders tend to suffer from low self-esteem and are extremely critical of themselves or their bodies. They “feel fat” and see themselves as overweight, sometimes even despite life-threatening emaciation. Without treatment of both the emotional and physical symptoms of these illnesses, eating disorders can become chronic, debilitating and even life-threatening conditions.
What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders are complex illnesses involving extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. The most common types of eating disorders include:
is a medical illness that may be diagnosed when a person weighs at least 15 percent less than the normal weight for his/her height and frame, and experiences several of the following symptoms: refusing to eat enough, exercising obsessively, using laxatives to purge food or forcing himself/herself to vomit. Over time, people with anorexia nervosa develop symptoms of starvation. As the body conserves resources, menstrual periods stop and bones start to lose calcium. If the illness is prolonged, osteoporosis develops; breathing, pulse and blood pressure rates fall; hair and nails become brittle; and skin dries and becomes yellow.
People suffering from bulimia nervosa
may eat an astounding amount of food in a short time and then purge by vomiting or using a laxative — repeating this several times a week and, in serious cases, several times a day. Bulimia nervosa has visible symptoms. Those who purge by vomiting may suffer from a chronically inflamed and sore throat, swollen salivary glands in the neck and below the jaw, puffy cheeks and face and tooth enamel breakdown and decay from constant exposure to stomach acid. Those who abuse laxatives develop intestinal problems due to constant irritation of the colon and depletion of important minerals from the body essential to nerve and muscle function.
Binge-eating disorder is a medical illness characterized by periods of uncontrolled, impulsive or continuous eating beyond the point of feeling comfortably full. While there is no purging, there may be sporadic fasts or repetitive diets and often feelings of shame or self-hatred after a binge. People who overeat compulsively may struggle with anxiety, depression and loneliness. Body weight may vary from normal to mild, moderate or severe obesity.
What causes eating disorders?
People with eating disorders often use food and the control of food in an attempt to compensate for feelings and emotions that may otherwise seem overwhelming. Some factors that can contribute to eating disorders include:
Cultural pressures that glorify “thin-ness”
- Depression, anxiety, anger or loneliness
- Difficulty expressing emotions and feelings
Feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life
History of being teased due to size or weight
History of physical or sexual abuse
Troubled family and personal relationships
How are eating disorders treated?
With early diagnosis and proper treatment, people with eating disorders have an excellent opportunity for complete recovery. The most effective and long-lasting treatment of an eating disorder is psychotherapy coupled with careful attention to medical and nutritional needs. Antidepressants are often prescribed for people with both eating disorders and depression. Other medications can help those recovering from anorexia nervosa retain their weight gain and reduce obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviors.
For More Information
It is important for people struggling with an eating disorder to find a health professional they trust to oversee their care. For more information or help, call Sharp Behavioral Health Services’ Intensive Treatment programs at 858-836-8434 or 1-800-696-6899.