A person can be said to be having an eating disorder when he experiences severe disturbances in eating behavior, such as extreme reduction of food intake or extreme overeating, or feelings of extreme distress or concern about body weight or shape.
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are two main types of eating disorders. Another type is categorized as "eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS)." EDNOS includes several variations of eating disorders which may have similarities with anorexia or bulimia but with slightly different characteristics. Binge eating disorder is one type of EDNOS.
Why should I be aware of this?
In most cases eating disorders appear during adolescence or young adulthood. But there are also reports of such developments in early childhood or later in adulthood. Women and girls are much more likely than males to develop an eating disorder. Eating disorders are real, medical illnesses which frequently co-exist with other psychiatric disorders such as depression, substance abuse, or anxiety disorders. Eating disorder can result in other physical health complications, such as heart conditions or kidney failure, which can lead to death. But it is a curable problem.
How does this affect me?
Eating disorder may start with a simple problem like a person eating smaller or larger amounts of food than usual. It is when the urge to eat less or more spirals out of control that the complex nature of the disorder is seen.
Eating disorder has very deep rooted issues and involves going through immense emotional as well as physical pain. A professional can deal with the physical pain, but the emotional healing can only begin with the help of the family. Though there has been considerable research, there is little understanding about the biological, behavioral and social underpinnings of these illnesses.
All about eating disorder
A relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight, either by way of dieting and exercising excessively; or by self-induced vomiting, or misusing laxatives, diuretics or enemas result in emaciation, which is the main characteristic of Anorexia Nervosa
For many people starving and taking excessive weight control measures become an obsession. A person with anorexia typically weighs herself or himself repeatedly, and eats only very small quantities of only certain foods. Proper treatment can help fast recovery for some while others have relapses. In more chronic form of anorexia, health deteriorates over many years as they battle the illness.
According to research findings, people with anorexia have 10 times more chances of dying than people without this condition. The most common complications that lead to death are cardiac arrest, and electrolyte and fluid imbalances. Suicide is also possible.
In many cases anorexia is also accompanied by coexisting psychiatric and physical illnesses, including depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior, substance abuse, cardiovascular and neurological complications, and impaired physical development.
Other symptoms may develop over time, including:
- Thinning of the bones
- Hair and nails becoming brittle
- Skin drying and becoming yellowish
- Fine hair grows over body
- Mild anemia, and muscle weakness and loss
- Severe constipation
- Blood pressure drops, breathing and pulse rate slows
- Internal body temperature drops, giving a person cold feet
- Lethargic feeling
There are three components to treating anorexia:
- Restoring healthy weight
- Treating the psychological issues
- Reducing or eliminating behaviors or thoughts that lead to disordered eating, and preventing relapse.
It is believed that mood and anxiety symptoms that often co-exist with anorexia can be relieved with the use of medications, such as antidepressants, antipsychotics or mood stabilizers. Some recent studies, however, have shown relapse of symptoms after use of antidepressants . Moreover, during the critical first phase of restoring a person’s health medication is not known to work effectively.
The psychological reasons for the illness can be addressed with different forms psychotherapy, including individual, group and family-based therapies.
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by lack of control over eating, resulting in recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food (e.g., binge-eating). This binge eating is followed by behavior such as purging (e.g., vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics), fasting and/or excessive exercise, as a compensation for binge eating.
People with bulimia can be within their normal weight, yet fear gaining weight, want to lose weight, and are intensely unhappy with their body size and shape. As this behavior is accompanied by disgust or shame, people with bulimia often practice these behaviors secretly. Bulimia, like anorexia, has coexisting psychological illnesses, such as depression, anxiety and/or substance abuse problems.
Other symptoms include:
- Chronic inflammation and soreness of throat
- Glands in the neck and below the jaw swell
- Exposure to stomach acid wears out teeth enamel and cause teeth decay
- Gastroesophageal reflux disorder
- Laxative abuse causes intestinal distress and irritation
- Kidney problems from diuretic abuse
- Severe dehydration
Treatment for bulimia depends on the individual’s condition, which may include nutritional counseling and psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or be prescribed medication. Some approved antidepressants, such as are the only medication for treating bulimia. CBT that has been tailored to treat bulimia also has shown to be effective in changing binging and purging behavior, and eating attitudes. Therapy may be individually oriented or group-based.
Binge eating disorder
Binge-eating disorder is characterized by recurrent uncontrolled eating but unlike bulimia, binge eating episodes are not followed by purging, excessive exercise or fasting. As a result, people with binge eating disorder often are overweight or obese. They also experience guilt, shame and/or distress about the binge eating, which can lead to further eating.
Obese people with binge eating disorder often have coexisting psychological illnesses including anxiety, depression, and personality disorders. In addition, links between obesity and cardiovascular disease and hypertension are well documented. Treatment for binge eating disorder is similar to those used to treat bulimia.
- 8,000,000 or more people in the United States have an eating disorder. 
- 90% are women.
- Victims may be rich or poor.
- Eating disorders usually start in the teens but may begin as early as age 8.