Eating disorders are not fads or phases, they’re serious mental health conditions that can have seriously damaging physical and emotional consequences. They often occur alongside other mental health conditions and are more common among women than men. In addition to causing long-term damage to the body, they can also have a devastating effect on someone’s relationships and career. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, seek help from a healthcare practitioner who specializes in eating disorders as soon as possible.
The most well-known eating disorder is anorexia nervosa, which typically develops during adolescence or early adulthood. People with this condition suffer from an intense fear of gaining weight and persistently pursue dietary habits that prevent them from achieving or maintaining a healthy body weight.
Individuals with this type of eating disorder may be dangerously underweight but still view themselves as overweight. They often rely on strict food restrictions, extreme dieting and extreme exercise to lose weight or keep their weight down. They may also engage in behaviors known as purging, which is the practice of vomiting or using laxatives and diuretics to get rid of calories they’ve consumed.
Another type of anorexia is binge-purge anorexia, which is characterized by episodes of eating large quantities of foods despite feeling full. People with this condition will usually then compensate for the binges by engaging in purging behavior such as forced vomiting, misuse of laxatives or diuretics or excessive exercising. Some individuals have a subtype of anorexia nervosa called restricting anorexia where they severely limit the types and quantity of foods they eat.
Researchers have identified several different factors that can contribute to an eating disorder, including a genetic predisposition, personality traits and environmental influences. They have found that people with eating disorders tend to exhibit obsessive-compulsive personality traits such as perfectionism, inflexibility, drive for control and a desire for order and symmetry. They have also found that individuals with eating disorders can experience feelings of anxiety, depression and other mood issues.
Individuals with anorexia nervosa are at high risk for a variety of medical problems, including malnutrition, electrolyte imbalance and irregular heartbeat, which can be life-threatening. Treatment includes addressing the medical concerns, nutritional education and counseling to address the underlying causes of the anorexia. Individuals who are suffering from anorexia should be evaluated by a healthcare practitioner who specializes in eating disorder management and treated with compassion and respect. It is important for these patients to understand the seriousness of their condition and that recovery can be a long process, but it is well worth the effort. The goal of treatment is to help the individual achieve a healthy body weight, restore normal eating patterns and develop a healthier relationship with food. Medications, such as antidepressants, can be used to ease some of the symptoms of anorexia and are considered an integral part of recovery. A physician will work with the patient to determine a treatment plan that is best suited for his or her needs.