Three Serious Eating Disorders You Should Know About

Eating disorders are more than just dieting too much. Eating disorders are real, treatable medical illnesses. People with eating disorders often also suffer from depression, substance abuse or anxiety disorders. Research is finding that an interaction of genetic, biological, psychological and social factors cause eating disorders.

A person with an eating disorder may start out eating smaller or larger portions of food, but with an eating disorder, the urge to eat less or more may spiral out of control into extreme efforts to control weight or food intake.

An eating disorder can become life-threatening if a person doesn’t receive treatment. The eating disorder, Anorexia Nervosa is associated with the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

Who is susceptible to an eating disorder?

Eating disorders affect both genders. However, rates among women and girls are 2½ times greater than among men and boys. About 30 million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder during their lives. That’s more than the combined populations of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Indiana.

Eating disorders often appear during the teen or young adult years but can also develop during childhood or later in life.

What are the more common eating disorders?

Anorexia Nervosa

People with anorexia nervosa often have a distorted body image and self-esteem that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape. They see themselves as overweight, even when they’re significantly underweight. They often become obsessed with:

  • Food.
  • Eating.
  • Weight control.
  • Weighing themselves compulsively.
  • Excessive exercise.

Those with Anorexia Nervosa restricting type may portion food carefully and eat only small quantities of specific foods.

Individuals with Anorexia Nervosa binge-eating/purging type may follow binge eating with excessive dieting, exercise, induced vomiting or misuse of laxatives, diuretics or enemas.

Symptoms and Complications of Anorexia Nervosa

This illness can result in:

  • Lack of menstruation among females.
  • Infertility.
  • Thin bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis).
  • Brittle hair and nails.
  • Dry and yellowish skin.
  • Severe constipation.
  • Heart and brain damage.
  • Multi-organ failure.

Bulimia Nervosa

People with Bulimia Nervosa often repeatedly and uncontrollably eat large amounts of food. They follow food binges with forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise or a combination.

Those with Bulimia Nervosa are usually of normal weight or may be slightly overweight. However, they often fear gaining weight and are very unhappy with their body size and shape.

The binge and purge cycle often takes place multiple times during a day or week and is done in secret — accompanied by feelings of shame or disgust.

Symptoms and Complications of Bulimia Nervosa

This illness can result in:

  • Swollen glands in the neck and jaw.
  • Tears in the lining of the esophagus and stomach which can lead to internal bleeding
  • Worn tooth enamel, and sensitive and decaying teeth (from exposure to stomach acid).
  • Severe acid reflux and other gastrointestinal problems.
  • Cardiac problems such as irregular rhythms or even heart failure
  • Intestinal irritation and discomfort from laxative abuse.
  • Severe dehydration from purges.
  • Imbalance of minerals such as sodium, calcium and potassium. The imbalance can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Binge-Eating Disorder

With this condition, purging does not follow binge eating. So binge eaters are often overweight. They experience guilt and shame, which can result in more binge eating. Obese people with this disorder are at higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

How do doctors treat eating disorders?

Check with your health care provider for guidance in treatment options, which may include:

  • Medical care and monitoring.
  • Individual, group or family psychotherapy.
  • Nutritional counseling.
  • Medications (for example, antidepressants).

Typical goals of treatment will include:

  • Establishing adequate nutrition.
  • Restoring weight to a healthy level.
  • Reducing binge and purge behaviors.

If you or someone you care about might have an eating disorder, your health care professional can help and provide guidance to a complete recovery and a healthy approach to nutrition.

Meet the Author

Zobeida Margarita Diaz, MD is a psychiatric physician at Aurora Behavioral Health Center in Wauwatosa, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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