Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder can cause serious, life-threatening problems with your health. These conditions develop in a person’s teen or young adult years and can include severe weight loss, malnutrition, organ damage, a dangerously low body weight and an array of psychological and physical complications. While there is no single cause of an eating disorder, a variety of factors, including personality traits, environmental and family influences and personal experiences, play a role in the development of the condition.
Some traits, such as perfectionism and an overly rigid need for control, may predispose individuals to developing an eating disorder. However, people with these traits can overcome eating disorders if they learn self-control. Other personality traits that may contribute to the development of an eating disorder include a tendency to over-value shape and weight, a fear of gaining weight, heavy food restriction, ingredient checking, secrecy and excessive exercise. People who struggle with these traits, especially those who have experienced trauma, have a higher risk of developing an eating disorder.
In addition to personality traits, genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of eating disorders. A family history of the condition is a significant factor in its onset and some studies suggest that a person is more likely to develop an eating disorder if they have a family member with an illness. People with these conditions often have a history of other mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The majority of cases of eating disorders involve females, but males can also have these conditions. Generally, these conditions develop in teenagers and young adults and can be fatal without treatment. Some of the most common symptoms of an eating disorder are weight loss or gain, food restrictions, mood swings and an increased focus on appearance.
Individuals with these disorders are known to have a very poor response to stress and have a tendency to become overwhelmed easily. They are also known to have a lack of resiliency, and may experience an array of physical problems such as osteoporosis, heart problems, nerve damage and nutrient deficiencies.
A recent study of 112 women who had a diagnosis of an eating disorder showed that the group had less flexibility in their thinking than the control group and that they did not have a high level of creativity.
It is important to know that behaviors that don’t fit into the categories of anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa are still problematic and may lead to a serious medical condition. It is important to seek help for your loved one if you see these symptoms and encourage him or her to reach out for professional help. Providing support, compassion and encouragement can help a loved one realize that they have an issue with food and eating and that there is hope for recovery.