Eating Disorders

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Eating disorder is an obsession that results in dramatic weight fluctuation, interferes with normal daily life, and damages vital body functions. It normally results from a desperate need to seek acceptance from everyone through negative attention. Particularly teenagers, as they undergo dramatic physical changes and face new social pressures, are concerned about how they look and feel self-conscious about their bodies.

For many this concern grows into an obsession that can become an eating disorder. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa cause dramatic weight fluctuation, interfere with normal daily life, and damage vital body functions.


Why should I be aware of this?

People with eating disorders also suffer from a distorted image of their bodies, clinically called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Any treatment, therefore, for eating disorders should also include efforts to re-focus body image on the real rather than distorted image.

Parents play a big role in preventing development of an eating disorder by nurturing their self-esteem, and encouraging healthy attitudes about nutrition and appearance.

Eating Disorders and health

As the condition of a person suffering from eating disorder deteriorates, a number of serious side effects occur and are endured to stay slim. These include depression, anxiety, insomnia, anemia, infertility, loss of sexual drive, impaired thinking, constipation, perspiration, slow pulse rate, low blood pressure, reduced body temperature, changes in colour and texture of hair, nails and skin and excessive hair growth on the body.

It is also a known fact that eventually chronic illness sets in and if the condition is not treated, the sufferer may die from malnutrition, hypothermia or dehydration or in the case of compulsive eating, problems related with obesity. Since the weight loss is apparent to everyone but the sufferer (who imagines that his or her body is larger than what it really is), there is an added pressure to eat, which can make things worse. At this point, it is imperative to consult a doctor and get urgent medical attention.

All about Eating Disorders

One of the most common trait in all patients of eating disorders is a lack of self esteem. It is characterized by a sense of not feeling good enough, of comparing themselves with others and falling short. They all believe that their lives would get better if they could just lose weight.

Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of eating disorders


Anorexics do have an appetite but they choose to ignore their hunger. Many people with this disorder restrict their intake to fewer than 1,000 calories per day which is way lower than the normal human intake.

Research and studies are still on to determine why some people have anorexia while others don’t. Though no conclusive medical or psychological reason is forthcoming, many theories have been propounded. These are based on a number of factors such as genetics, the environment around the person, and personality of the patient. It may stem from a poor self image owing to societal pressures to conform to set ideals of looks.

Studies in the United States have shown disturbing results where scientists have found that, the people suffering from Anorexia nervosa have a decreased level of the biochemical functions of neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, similar to those in people suffering from depression. They also found that some patients have higher than normal levels of cortisol, which is a brain hormone that gets released due to stress, thus showing that stress factor could be a possible reason as well.


This eating disorder revolves around binge eating and then purging. Typically patients will eat a large quantity of food in a relatively short period of time and then adopt behaviors such as taking laxatives or self-induced because they feel overwhelmed in coping with their emotions, or in order to punish themselves. Psychologically, people suffering from bulimia are usually aware that they have an eating disorder but are unable to help themselves. Unlike anorexia, people with bulimia may have the normal weight range but they too fear gaining weight, and are intensely unhappy with their body size and shape.

Besides the obvious health hazards of bulimia, it also results in electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, and oral and tooth-related problems.

Compulsive overeating

Compulsive or Binge eating is characterized by frequent binge-eating episodes during which a person has no control over his or her eating. Unlike bulimia, binge-eating episodes, however, are not followed by purging, vomiting or excessive exercise. As a result, people with binge-eating disorder often are overweight or obese. The Obesity leads to further guilt, shame and depression that leads to more eating until it becomes a cyclical problem. The Obesity also leads to diseases such as anxiety, depression, and personality disorders along with many other obesity related diseases.

Eating Disorder in Kids

One of the most tragic result of today’s consumerist world is the prevalence of eating disorders in children as young as 10 years old. While it is more common among girls, boys can experience eating disorders too. Unfortunately, many kids and teens successfully hide these disorders from their families for months or years. It is up to the parents, teachers and society to realize the problem and help prevent it. It requires nurturing the child's self-esteem, and help develop a healthy attitude about nutrition.


Despite extensive research and study, we have still not been able to determine the exact reason that results in eating disorders. It is said to be a combination of psychological, genetic, social and family factors. Many researches have suggested that media images contribute to the rise in the incidence of eating disorders. Both society’s exposure to media and eating disorders have grown immensely over the past decade. The need to conform to the acceptable notions of what is in fashion and the constant bombardment of images and news that to be thin is the only way to be, has led to entire generation of people growing up with twisted notions of self worth and identity which is directly proportional to the rise in all kinds of eating disorders.

Dieting Vs. Eating Disorders

Generally speaking dieting is about losing weight by adopting a healthy way of eating. It is basically about losing some weight. But eating disorders are about everything going on in a person’s life- stress, relationships, loneliness, validation etc.

Eating disorders on the other hand are normally about a mental state where the weight of a person determines the entire image and esteem of the person. They verge on extremes. There is normally no rational thought behind it and

What can I do about it?

Look for symptoms


  • About 15- 20 % less weight than normal
  • Even though a person is thin, they still continue to diet and have a morbid fear of gaining weight.
  • In women and girls, there can be a lack of menstrual periods
  • There is a preference to eat in isolation
  • Having a compulsive need to exercise vigorously
  • Sighs of insomnia, depression and brittle hair or nails


  • Showing signs of uncontrollable and abnormal eating followed by strict dieting, fasting, vigorous exercise, and/or vomiting
  • Warning signs of the use of laxatives or diuretics to lose weight
  • Frequently visiting the bathroom after meals
  • Signs of reddened finger(s) and swollen cheeks or glands from trying to induce vomiting
  • Preoccupation with body weight
  • Exhibiting signs of depression, mood swings and being obsessed with body weight.
  • For women and girls, keep an eye for irregular menstrual periods


  • If your child has rapid weight fluctuation, and his or her concern about weight interferes with normal daily activities, it is imperative you approach your child about getting the proper medical care.
  • Try and understand what the problem is.
  • It's common for kids with eating disorders to act defensive and angry when confronted for the first time. They often have trouble admitting, even to themselves, that they have a problem.
  • It's important to approach your child about your concerns in a loving, supportive and non-threatening way.
  • It's also a good idea to bring up your concerns at a time and in a setting where your child feels comfortable and relaxed.

Eating disorder and therapies

Conventional Treatment

In the matter of eating disorders home treatment is mostly not advisable. Most alternative therapists and practitioners agree that help in hospitals is essential in the early stages of recovery. The sooner it is diagnosed, better are chances of the person getting cured. The conventional treatment ranges from slow weight gain of up to 1.5 to 2 kilos per week to psychotherapy, individual or group therapy and even family counseling.

Alternative Therapies

In case of alternative therapies, it is the belief that they must be used in conjunction with orthodox treatments and counseling. Some which may help are-


Acupuncture therapists can work with the person and help to relieve stress, balance the body’s energy and promote well being.

Art Therapy

Art therapists can give patients a creative outlet for pent up feelings, and a discussion of the work they create, can in return, give the therapist and the patients themselves pointers to emotional states and the progress being made.

Dance Therapy

Dance therapy can be an outlet for pent up feelings and has proved especially useful in treating adolescents who are withdrawn and suffer with neurotic illness. It may encourage them to feel a sense of purpose and identity.


The therapist will discuss patient’s problems and try to establish a rapport, so that the patient is receptive to hypnosis. Ideally the patient is then susceptible to suggestions and will be given post-hypnotic ideas such as a positive feeling towards eating instead of revulsion to food.

Bach Remedies

Heather is recommended in case the patients refusal to eat food is seen as a plea for attention. Beech is suitable for an emotional inability to accept food.


  • According to a BBC report, even 10 year olds have an eating disorder.
  • 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25
  • Eating Disorders are about being convinced that your whole self-esteem is hinged on what you weigh and how you look.
  • Research shows that 42% of first to third-grade girls want to be thinner, and 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.
  • An estimated 10 – 15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are males
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness
  • Only 1 in 10 people with eating disorders receive treatment
  • 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems


  • South Carolina Department of Mental Health
  • Eating disorder