Eating Disorders

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There are three recognised eating disorders:
  • Anorexia Nervosa,
  • Bulimia Nervosa and
  • binge eating disorder.
There is also
  • EDNOS (Eating Disorders Not otherwise Specified).
In some cases eating disorders can be combined — so someone can have Bulimia and Anorexia at the same time. Anorexia Nervosa causes severe weight loss and bulimia nervosa combines overeating with vomiting. People suffering from anorexia nervosa become obsessed with losing weight combined with a distorted self image; they are so concerned about it that they eat almost nothing and in severe cases the body can starve. Often sufferers reject help.

According to the Eating Disorders Association, eating disorders are really a way of not having to face up to painful problems in life and difficulties you can't solve. Eating (or not eating) is used as a way of showing deeper feelings of unhappiness.

Traditionally eating disorders have been seen as a condition suffered by young women, but they can affect people of all ages and increasingly young men are experiencing these difficulties too — approximately 10 per cent of anorexics are male. It has also been argued by some that the influence of the media on people's self image causes concern. Some surveys suggest that young people (young men and young women) feel encouraged to lose weight in order to be more like their celebrity idols.

Anorexia nervosa makes the sufferer believe that they are fat so in response they cut down on the food they eat. The symptoms of anorexia may include:
  • severe loss of weight
  • mistaken beliefs about actual body size, shape and weight
  • taking too much exercise
  • getting rid of the food they eat (by vomiting or using laxatives)
  • cutting themselves off from friends, family or carers
  • feeling moody and bad-tempered
  • having difficulty sleeping
  • periods may stop
  • feeling cold and having poor blood circulation
  • growth of downy hair all over the body and
  • low self-esteem.
The characteristics of bulimia nervosa mean that sufferers eat lots of food and then make themselves sick. There are times when they starve themselves or use laxatives. The symptoms may be:
  • bingeing on large quantities of food
  • getting rid of the food they eat by vomiting or using laxatives
  • feeling out of control, helpless and lonely
  • irregular periods
  • sore throat and loss of enamel on teeth
  • poor skin condition due to dehydration
  • tiredness
  • moodiness and self-hatred.
Dealing with eating disorders can be difficult because it can take a long time for people to admit that they have a problem. The sooner this happens the greater chance there is of recovery. It is important to get professional help. They may appreciate talking to someone they trust.

Side effects are suffered by people with both conditions. Damage may be caused to the heart and kidneys. If laxatives are used regularly there may also be significant bowel muscle damage. Gastric acid from the stomach is corrosive and will damage tooth enamel if vomiting is persistent.

Compulsive dieting

It is estimated that 50% of women in the UK are either dieting at the moment or thinking about it. Dieting has become an obsession in the UK over the past few years as we strive for the perfect body. Researchers also suggest that 96% of diets don't work. Many people get trapped into the 'yo-yo' dieting effect where crash diets initially cause the desired weight loss only for the pounds to return just as quickly.

Healthy eating is far safer and will help to maintain a stable weight, that is comfortable for a person's size and shape. It will also keep the necessary balance of minerals and fluids that the body needs.

Binge Eating

Like bulimia, binge eating has only recently been recognised as a distinct condition. The essential difference is that these people binge uncontrollably but do not purge themselves. It is believed that many more people suffer from binge eating disorder than either anorexia or bulimia nervosa. It is estimated that approximately ten per cent of people with binge-eating disorder are obese.

Signs of binge eating include:
  • Eating much more rapidly than usual
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
  • Eating alone because of their embarrassment at the quantities of food consumed
  • Feeling ashamed, depressed or guilty after bingeing
  • Being unable to purge themselves of the food eaten.

Other Eating Disorders

Conditions as complex as eating disorders inevitably mean that there are variations in the typical signs described in these web pages, and not all symptoms will apply to all people. For instance, a woman with anorexia may have irregular or normal periods; bulimic episodes may be very infrequent. These cases will be classified as 'partial syndrome' eating disorders.

Some variations are much more distinct, such as 'chew and spit' behaviour, when a person chews food and spits it out — rather than swallowing — large amounts of food. Another example is regurgitation when food is swallowed and is then brought back up into the mouth for re-chewing. Some people eat non-foods, such as paper tissues, to fill themselves up without the calorific intake.


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