Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, are psychological conditions where the individual exhibits severe disturbance in eating behaviour.
Although eating disorders are thought to mostly affect young women, both men and women of any age are susceptible to both conditions. If not addressed, eating disorders can result in serious health problems, and in extreme cases can even lead to death.
Types of Eating Disorders
- Anorexia Nervosa: This eating disorder is characterized by an unhealthy preoccupation with body image (particularly a fear of being overweight), which compels the person to limit their intake of food to an unrealistic, dangerous extent in order to achieve an unrealistic (and unhealthy) body weight.
- Bulimia Nervosa: A pattern of binging (i.e. binge eating) and purging (through self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, or extreme exercising) as a result of an unhealthy preoccupation with weight, body image, and underlying control issues.
- Binge Eating Disorder: characterized by bouts of eating large amounts of food in a short period of time followed by feelings of disgust or guilt over the behaviour.
Health Risks of Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia Nervosa can have serious consequences for long-term health and wellbeing. In extreme cases, it can even result in death and has one of the highest death rates of any psychological disorder. Other health effects include:
- Decreased heart rate and blood pressure
- Decreased bone density and osteoporosis
- Muscle loss/weakness
- Decreased libido and impotence
- Absence of menstrual period
- Dry skin and hair or even hair loss
- Difficulty with concentration and memory
Health Risks of Bulimia Nervosa
People suffering from Bulimia Nervosa often do not appear thin or emaciated, as is the case with many sufferers of Anorexia Nervosa. However, Bulimia can still cause many serious health problems. These include:
- Electrolyte imbalance, which can have serious consequences for the heart
- Damage to the esophagus and teeth from frequent vomiting
- Irregular bowel activity
Health Risks of Binge Eating Disorder
Complications resulting from Binge Eating Disorder can include:
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of shame and embarrassment over binging behaviour
- Feelings of loss of control
- Poor body image, obsessive worry over food intake and body image
- Increased blood pressure and cholesterol
- Poor nutrition
- Heart disease
Treating Eating Disorders
The exact cause for the development of eating disorders is yet unknown. Researchers believe that there may be neurological, psychological and genetic (biological) factors at play. Despite not knowing the causes, some psychological treatments have shown promising results and improvement.
Psychological treatment usually focuses on a wide range of issues, such as self-esteem, body image, obsessive thoughts, and compulsive behaviour. In addition, new research seems to indicate that therapy involving the family (or couples therapy) is an effective way of treating eating disorders.