Eating disorders are very serious as they affect millions of people – both men and women – worldwide. People with eating disorders are very concerned about their weight and body image and thus these disorders are mainly characterised by irregular eating.
The two most widely known eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. These disorders are characterised by either minimal or excessive eating which is detrimental to a person’s well-being. Eating disorders can be seen as a person’s unhealthy relationship with food.
There is social pressure on women in particular to be very thin or to have a perfect figure, especially in today’s modern world. Glamour magazines are filled with size zero models and many women see them as role models. This perpetuates these eating disorders as young women strive to make themselves look like the models they see in these magazines.
Let’s take a look at these eating disorders, their symptoms and both emotional and physical treatments involved in recovery.
Anorexia nervosa is characterised by weight loss through excessive dieting and exercise – some cases are so extreme that it reaches a point of starvation. These people believe that they are fat, they have a fear of becoming fat and no amount of weight loss and exercise will change their views.
Common feelings and emotions linked to anorexia nervosa include:
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Restrictive eating – not eating any food containing fats or sugars
- Weighing less than what is normal for your specific height, gender and stage of development
- Having a distorted body image – seeing your body as overweight when in fact it is underweight
- Too much exercise
- Refusing to talk about having a problem with food and weight loss
The physical symptoms related to anorexia include:
- Low body weight
- Constipation or slow emptying of the stomach
- Brittle nails
- Dry skin
- Thinning hair
- No monthly period
- Low body temperature
- Feeling cold
- Low blood pressure
Treatment for anorexia nervosa includes visiting a doctor and regular counselling sessions. Those that are severely underweight will have to stay in the hospital until they have reached a healthy body weight and have adopted healthy eating habits. Treatment includes seeing a doctor to treat issues such as depression or heart problems as well as a dietician to help restore healthy eating habits, as well as a therapist who can help restore emotional stability as well as understanding the reasons that may have led to the disorder.
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by extreme overeating and then purging (forcing oneself to vomit) to compensate for the overeating. People with bulimia judge themselves harshly on their body weight and image and follow a strict diet, however, eventually the hunger is overwhelming and causes them to binge eat. Food becomes a comfort for them, however, they feel very guilty for eating so much and then purge the food to avoid weight gain and so the cycle continues.
Vomiting causes the body to release endorphins which make you feel good. People then continue to do this even when they have not overeaten in order to feel good until they lose control over this cycle. Continual purging can cause serious health problems such as gum disease, osteoporosis, kidney and heart disease or even death.
Let’s take a look at the emotional and physical symptoms most commonly associated with this eating disorder.
Emotional symptoms of bulimia include:
- Repeated binge eating
- Eating larger amounts of food than normal in smaller spaces of time
- Frequently getting rid of calories that you have eaten through vomiting, exercising or using enemas and laxatives
- Feeling a loss of control over how much you eat
- Feeling ashamed for overeating
- Fear of gaining weight
- Constant thoughts about food and dieting
- Being secretive about eating and not eating in front of other people
- Sneaking food in or out of the house
- Irregular menstrual cycle
Physical symptoms of bulimia and health problems as a result include:
- Looking sick
- Tooth decay or erosion of tooth enamel
- Sore gums or mouth sores
- Dry skin
- Loose skin
- Thin or dull hair
- Swollen salivary glands
- Bloating or fullness
- Lack of energy
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Inflammation or tears in the oesophagus
- Long term problems with bowel movements due to excessive laxative use
- Suicide risk
Treatment for bulimia includes psychological therapy as well as medication such as anti-depressants – these are long term treatments which need time before results can be seen.
Eating disorders can be very dangerous if not treated. If you or anyone you know is suffering from one of these eating disorders please get them medical treatment as soon as possible so they too can lead a healthy, happy life.