People with an eating disorder often use a variety of strategies to lose weight or maintain a very low body weight. These include avoiding food, bingeing and purging (making themselves sick by vomiting or using laxatives or diuretics) and excessive exercise. Many of these behaviours are dangerous and can lead to serious medical complications. Fortunately, treatment is available. The goal of treatment is to restore a healthy relationship with food and a healthy body image. Eating disorders occur in people of all ages, genders and ethnicities and can be very difficult to overcome. They are not a fad or a phase and can have severe long-term consequences on both physical and mental health.
The most well-known eating disorder is anorexia nervosa, which affects women more than men. This is an extremely dangerous illness that causes severe malnutrition and can be life-threatening. It usually develops during adolescence or young adulthood and can cause a number of physical and psychological symptoms, including heart failure, brain damage, dehydration and a host of other problems. People with anorexia typically have a distorted view of their body weight and a disproportionate fear of gaining weight, even when they are dangerously underweight.
Anorexia nervosa is officially classified into two subtypes: the restricting type and the binge eating/purging type. The restricting type means that the person places severe restrictions on the quantity and/or types of food they consume, often counting calories or skipping meals. In the binge eating/purging type of anorexia, the person regularly engages in a pattern of over-eating followed by purging activities such as forced vomiting, misusing laxatives or enemas. Both types of anorexia are unhealthy and can have life-threatening consequences if left untreated.
Bulimia nervosa is another type of eating disorder that also tends to affect more women than men. The main difference between anorexia nervosa and bulimia is the body weight of the sufferer. People with anorexia are usually underweight because of their intense fear of gaining weight, while the majority of people with bulimia are of normal or even slightly overweight.
Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED) is the name for eating disorders that don’t fit into the categories of Anorexia, Bulimia or Binge-Eating and Purging Disorders. It is estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of people with anorexia are in this category. People with this disorder have trouble distinguishing between emotional and physical hunger, and they have a distorted sense of their own body weight and shape.
It’s important to note that there are many disorders that mimic anorexia nervosa, and mistaking any of them for the condition could result in a delay in treatment, unnecessary medical costs and potentially serious complications. The best way to identify anorexia nervosa is to see a therapist that specializes in eating disorders. A therapist can help you address the underlying causes of the illness and build a healthier perception of eating and your body. This may include cognitive remediation therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy or other treatments.