In a society that continues to prize thinness, almost everyone worries about their weight at some point in their lives. People with eating disorders take such concerns to extremes, developing abnormal eating habits that threaten their well-being and even their lives.
Major types of eating disorders.
People with anorexia-nervosa have a distorted body image that causes them to see themselves as overweight even when they are dangerously thin. Often refusing to eat, exercising compulsively, and developing unusual habits such as refusing to eat in front of others, they lose large amounts of weight and may even starve to death.
Individuals with bulimia-nervosa eat excessive quantities of food, then purge their bodies of the food and calories they fear by using laxatives/enemas/diuretics, vomiting and/or exercising. Often acting in secrecy, they feel disgusted and ashamed as they binge, yet relieved of tension and negative emotions once their stomachs are empty again. Like people with bulimia, those with binge eating disorder experience frequent episodes of out-of-control eating. The difference is that binge eaters do not purge their bodies of excess calories.
It is important to prevent problematic behaviours from evolving into full-fledged eating disorders.
Who suffers from eating disorders?
Mostly, adolescent/young women account for 90% of cases, nonetheless, eating disorders are not just a problem for the teenage women so often depicted in the media, older women/men/boys can also develop disorders.
People sometimes have eating disorders without their families/friends ever suspecting that they have a problem. Aware that their behaviour is abnormal, people with eating disorders may withdraw from social contact, hide their behaviour and deny that their eating patterns are problematic.
What causes eating disorders?
Many people with eating disorders suffer from low self-esteem/feelings of helplessness, and intense dissatisfaction with the way they look.
A wide range of situations can precipitate eating disorders in susceptible individuals. Family members/friends may repeatedly tease people about their bodies. Negative emotions/traumas such as rape/abuse or the death of a loved one can also trigger disorders.
Once people start engaging in abnormal eating behaviours, the problem can perpetuate itself. Bingeing can set a vicious cycle in motion, as individuals purge to rid themselves of excess calories, then binge again to escape problems in their day-to-day lives.
It is estimated that one in ten anorexia cases ends in death from starvation/suicide or medical complications like heart-attacks/kidney failure.
Eating disorders devastates the body which can cause anaemia/palpitations, hair/bone loss/tooth decay/inflammation of the oesophagus and the cessation of menstruation. Furthermore sufferers have higher rates of depression/anxiety disorders, and substance abuse than other people.
Psychotherapy is a vital role in the successful treatment of eating disorders. Doctors may be called on to rule out medical illnesses and determine that the patient is not in immediate physical danger.
In addition, a nutritionist may be asked to help assess and improve nutritional intake.
Once the psychotherapist has identified important issues that need addressing, he/she helps the client replace destructive thoughts/behaviours with more positive ones.
In addition, psychotherapy may need to focus on improving clients’ personal relationships and this may involve helping clients get beyond an event/situation that triggered the disorder in the first place.
Some patients, especially those with bulimia, may benefit from medication however, medication should only be used in combination with psychotherapy.
Does treatment work?
Most cases of eating disorder can be treated successfully however, treatments do not work instantly. For many clients, treatment may need to be long-term nevertheless, the sooner treatment commences, the better the outcome.
© 2012 – 2016, Content: Dr Vasilios Silivistris – Artwork: Ian Francis. All rights reserved.