We live in a society where the media and social pressure often cultivate a desire for unrealistic thinness. Because of the heavy emphasis on body image, some individuals may become overly conscious of their own appearance and begin experiencing distress over how to achieve an “ideal” weight. This is when eating disorders may develop in a person.
Eating disorders are psychological disorders that involve extreme disturbances in eating behavior, such as severely overeating or eating unhealthily small portions. Someone with an eating disorder often struggles with extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. Additionally, individuals with eating disorders often suffer from other mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety. Dealing with stressful life changes may also increase a person’s vulnerability to developing an eating disorder.
Common types of eating disorders include:
Anorexia nervosa is a disorder characterized by extreme starvation and weight loss that could be life threatening. Anorexic people often perceive themselves as overweight even when they are dangerously underweight. Other symptoms that may develop over time include thinning of the bones, cessation of the menstrual cycle, muscle weakness, low blood pressure, brain damage, lethargy, and brittle hair and/or nails.
Bulimia nervosa is a disorder in which one eats a large amount of food in a short time (binge) and then attempts to get rid of the food (purge) by vomiting, exercising too much, and taking medications (such as laxatives). Although individuals with this disorder may still have normal weight, they are often dissatisfied with their body image and want to lose weight. Other symptoms that may develop over time include chronically inflamed throat, swollen salivary glands, dehydration, tooth decay, kidney problems, and intestinal problems.
Binge eating disorder is another disorder in which the person consumes large amount of food in a short time, resulting in feelings of guilt and distress afterwards. The person feels out of control during the binging episode and does not try to get rid of the food after eating. This chronic disorder may lead to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases.
In the US, approximately 10 million women and 1 million men suffer from eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. If your friend has an eating disorder, talk to him or her and express your concern. Encouraging your friend to seek help from professionals is an important step towards his or her recovery. It is also helpful to inform someone who you know can make a difference in your friend’s life. Since people with eating disorders tend to be secretive or deny having problems, it is vital to watch closely for signs and symptoms and then provide assistance right away. If you suspect that you have an eating disorder, talk to a professional such as a health practitioner or counselor, or you can first confide in your friends or a trusted mentor or adult.
After recognizing that you have an eating disorder, it is important that you seek early treatment to restore your health and achieve a healthy weight. Treatment for eating disorders often includes multiple components addressing both the physical and mental aspects of the disorder. General medical care is needed to help the person’s body recover from damage caused by the unhealthy eating habits. Psychotherapy and counseling are used to address underlying emotional problems and understand the thoughts that fuel the disorder. Nutritional counseling teaches individuals how to implement a healthy diet. Family support and involvement can also play a tremendous role in the recovery process. Exercising appropriately and developing healthy eating habits are necessary to keep your body and your mind strong, but be careful not to overwhelm yourself with obsessive thoughts of diet and weight. Don’t forget: beauty comes in all shapes and sizes!