Eating disorders, such as excessive, compulsive or binge eating, anorexia, bulimia and dieting failure, affect millions of people of all ages and from all walks of life. An eating disorder is a complex mental health problem and stems from both emotional and psychological distress which results in an obsessive relationship with food. The ability to control the amount and type of food consumed makes sufferers believe they are coping and controlling their problems and it a way for them to block out painful and overwhelming feelings.
Sadly, people often attempt to control eating disorders by dieting, fasting, over-exercising, using slimming pills, diuretics, laxatives and purging (vomiting/emetics). These strategies can produce short term weight controls, but they do not provide a solution to eating disorders. These quick fixes fail to address the underlying emotional/ psychological problems that trigger and fuel eating disorders.
The difference between disorders?
Anorexia: A psychological disorder often stemming from extremely low self-esteem and an inability to cope with worries and stress. Sufferers develop a distorted view of their own body shape and weight, leading them to hyper-control their intake of food to the point of starvation. The mid and long term health effects of anorexia can be severe, including changes in hormone balances (girls may stop having periods), depression, permanent bowel damage from use of laxatives, anemia, osteoporosis and heart disease are likely as are other types of damage to major organs.
Bulimia: Also linked to emotional problems and issues of self-esteem and inability to cope with stress. Bulimics fall into an abusive cycle of gorging on food and then making themselves sick to get rid of the food by vomiting or taking laxatives to purge their bowels. Bulimics are often at risk of developing a pattern of drug or alcohol abuse. The excessive vomiting of bulimia often causes tears to occur in the inside of the throat, tooth enamel is often seriously eroded because of the amount stomach acid passing over the teeth when vomiting. Long term damage can include ulcers, severe anemia, swollen saliva glands.
Compulsive Eating: This is the most widespread of the disorders with the widest spectrum of sufferers, from those who eat excessively through boredom or depression, to those who binge eat or comfort eat excessively (even constantly) to deal with stress and depression. As compulsive eaters do not purge themselves after they eat they are often severely obese and consequently suffer from many of the health problems associated with obesity, including high blood pressure, damaged joints, heart disease and diabetes.
How might colleagues and friends detect the signs of these preventable disorders?
Anorexia Nervosa, also called Anorexia, is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder that is characterised by self starvation and excessive weight loss. When a person has anorexia nervosa their weight is usually at least 15% less than normal body weight. Extreme weight loss in people with anorexia nervosa can lead to dangerous health problems and even death.
The term anorexia literally means “loss of appetite”. However this definition is misleading as people with anorexia nervosa are often hungry, but refuse food anyway. People with anorexia nervosa have intense fears of becoming fat and see themselves as fat even when they are very slender. These individuals may try to correct this perceived “flaw” by strictly limiting food intake and exercising excessively in order to loose weight.
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