Eating disorders

October 18, 2008

Whether we live to eat or eat to live is an irony most of us face. On one hand workaholics and people with clear cut goals in life eat food just to sustain themselves so that they can work to achieve their goals. On the other hand, there are a few happy go lucky type of people who spend their time eating and thinking about food. I know many people who spend their day planning breakfast, lunch and dinner. Personally, I consider both these kinds of people extremists. Food is a necessary part of our lives and we need this to live; however considering it only as a nutritive supplement is demeaning its value. Having an occasional gastronomic delight to empower our taste buds is a privilege for me and I wouldn’t like to let go this opportunity. However spending the whole day thinking and planning about food is also ridiculing the whole appetite. Doing something productive enough to instigate hunger is vital to enjoy the treat.

The above mentioned extremities are aspects of normal psyche behavior which can be debated upon. However some abnormal psychologies which need medical treatment run around the aspects of food and weight control. These are eating disorders.

More on eating disorders

Eating disorders are a range of mental health problems that involve preoccupations with food, weight and appearance to the degree that a person’s health, relationships and daily activities are adversely affected. Anorexia Nervosa (anorexia) and Bulimia Nervosa (bulimia) are two of the most recognized and most serious eating disorders. They are widespread and can affect people of all ages and both sexes, but they are more common in adolescent girls and young women. Statistics vary, but anorexia is thought to affect less than one per cent of teenage girls and young women. Estimates suggest that about two per cent of adolescent girls and young women have bulimia. Approximately five per cent of people with anorexia are male. It is thought that the number of males with bulimia may be somewhat higher.

Some people develop eating disorders after a distressing event, but this is not the case for everyone. There is no scientifically established cause for eating disorders

Anorexia Nervosa
The usual symptoms of anorexia are:

  • being underweight for their age and height (less than 85 per cent of expected weight for height is the generally accepted benchmark)
  • a distorted perception of body weight or shape (the person thinks they are fat even when they are very thin)
  • a drive for thinness and an accompanying fear of weight gain
  • excessive behaviour to control weight, such as restricting food, over-exercising, vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics (“fluid tablets”) or diet pills
  • a loss of monthly periods in women or delay in starting them in girls.

Who becomes anorexic?

While anorexia mostly affects girls and women (90–95 percent), it can also affect boys and men. It was once thought that women of color were shielded from eating disorders by their cultures, which tend to be more accepting of different body sizes. Sadly, research shows that as African American, Latina, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian and Alaska Native women are more exposed to images of thin women, they also become more likely to develop eating disorders.

Someone with anorexia may look very thin. She or he may use extreme measures to lose weight by:

  • making her or himself throw up
  • taking pills to urinate or have a bowel movement
  • taking diet pills
  • not eating or eating very little
  • exercising a lot, even in bad weather or when hurt or tired
  • weighing food and counting calories
  • moving food around the plate instead of eating it

Someone with anorexia may also have a distorted body image, shown by thinking she or he is fat, wearing baggy clothes, weighing her or himself many times a day, and fearing weight gain.

Anorexia can also cause someone to not act like her or himself. She or he may talk about weight and food all the time, not eat in front of others, be moody or sad, or not want to go out with friends

How can anorexia and bulimia be treated?

Recognizing these disorders in their early stages and getting effective help early may prevent long-term problems. Treatment may include counseling or other therapy, dietary education for healthy eating, medication to assist severe depression, or nutritional supplements if required. Medication may also be helpful for some people with bulimia.

Dealing with a family member with an eating disorder can be very difficult for families. Family therapy may assist families to help their affected family member.

Most people with eating disorders are effectively treated in the community. People with complex and severe disorders sometimes require hospitalization. Those with severe weight loss or children and adolescents who are behind in growth may need a specific refeeding program to reach a healthy weight range.

Bulimia Nervosa
The usual symptoms of bulimia are:

  • feeling out of control when bingeing and feeling guilty afterwards
  • using methods to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, fasting, excessive exercise, misuse of laxatives, diuretics (“fluid tablets”) and diet pills
  • frequent changes in weight, but their weight is typically in the normal range or a little above normal.

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