There are three main eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia and compulsive overeating.
All have quite distinct and separate characteristics.
However, they all involve problems with food limiting the types of food eaten, losing control and eating too much or having to get rid of the food soon after eating.
Eating disorders are not just about eating they are also about being unhappy with body shape size or weight and the impact this has on self esteem, relationships and ability to cope with life in general.
It is thought 10% of the population has an eating disorder.
Most people with an eating disorder are female, however more males are being diagnosed with eating disorders.
Excessive exercise may also occur in order to lose weight. Males, in particular may work out in order to gain more muscle and no matter how muscly they become never feel they are big enough. This can lead to abuse of steroids an obsession with muscle development can become dangerous if it goes unchecked.
Anorexia Nervosa - Sometimes called the slimmers disease, it is a complex psychological eating disorder characterised by severe amounts of weight loss due to self-imposed starvation in an endless pursuit of thinness. To live with an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa, is to live in constant fear of becoming fat. A person with anorexia may be as much as 15% under normal bodyweight but do not recognise this and in fact still think that they are overweight.
Bulimia - Bulimia is a psychological disorder characterised by uncontrollable consumption of large amounts of food. The binge eating is often followed by self-induced vomiting or laxative abuse to counter the excess food ingested.
Compulsive Overeating - Compulsive overeating is marked by impulsive binge eating without purging and results in rapid weight gain.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
The various eating disorders have distinct and separate symptoms. When someone is experiencing an eating disorder, the following signs or symptoms may be evident.
Sudden unexplained weight loss
Total preoccupation with body shape and weight
Hiding of food
Skipping of meals or eating alone
High achievements and expectations of self
Overactivity and excessive dieting
Frequent weight fluctuations
Eating large amounts of food followed by vomiting/laxative abuse
Eating large amounts of food without purging
Repeated attempts to lose weight
Inability to control food intake
CAUSES OF EATING DISORDERS
In spite of research and numerous publications over the past decade, there remains uncertainty about the exact causes of eating disorders. To date, evidence exists in support of a variety of risk factors that may contribute to the development of an eating disorder. The cause and influence of certain risk factors will differ from one person to another.
Psychological factors - It is possible that feelings of anxiety, low self esteem, self criticism, feelings of inadequacy, perfectionism, the need to achieve highly and to seek other peoples approval can make you more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder.
Socio Cultural factors - There is substantial pressure on women within western society to conform to the ideal of the waif look. Thinness is highly valued in our society. The beauty and fashion industries constantly persuade women to think that there is only one acceptable body image, despite the fact that the majority of women are not healthy at this size.
The steroid muscle man image from cinema and magazines also influences boys to feel they need to build up their muscles to be attractive to women and to feel better about themselves.
Personal factors - Often changes in life circumstances such as the breakdown of a relationship, changes in adolescence, or having been the victim of child abuse or rape can contribute to the development of an eating disorder.
Biological factors - Some research suggests that hormonal or chemical imbalances in the body can play a role in developing an eating disorder.
Emotional and Psychological effects of eating disorders
Loneliness, Social withdrawal, Anxiety, Mood swings, Depression and Low self-esteem
Loss of motivation
Severe sensitivity to the cold
Loss or thinning of hair
Skin and nail problems
Growth of fine body hair known as lanugo
Severe weight loss
High blood pressure
Rapid weight gain
Chronic sore throat
Burning or rupturing of oesophagus
Cessation of menstruation
Strain on the body organs
Delay in puberty
Decreased bone mineral density
Swollen salivary glands
Erasure of dental enamel due to constant purging
Various forms of treatment are available such as psychotherapy, counselling and self help groups. Sometimes hospitalisation and medication are required. The first step is for the person to realise they have a serious problem and they need encouragement to take responsibility for getting help. They need to learn to accept their strengths, weaknesses, successes and failures as part of a balanced existence.
If you think that you, or someone you know, might have an eating disorder, telling someone about it is okay and important. Talking about issues that you perceive to be embarrassing or shameful is hard.
Despite how difficult some issues are to talk about, getting treatment for an eating disorder is one of the most important things you can do. You dont have to do it alone. Various forms of treatment are available, such as psychotherapy, support groups, medical or non-medical practices. The following is a list of places available for support.
WHERE TO GET HELP
Your local General Practitioner
Community Health Centre (see listing under Community Health Centres in White Pages)
Eating Disorders Association of NSW (02) 9899 5344
Eating Disorders Support Network (24hr) (02) 9412 4499
Australian Psychological Society (APS) 1800 33 497 for referral to a psychologist in your area.
Mental Health Information Service (02) 9816 5688 or 1800 674 200 (outside Sydney metro)
Disclaimer: The information provided is to be used for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for seeking professional care in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. Information may be reproduced with an acknowledgement to the Mental Health Association NSW. This, and other fact sheets are available for download from www.mentalhealth.asn.au. This fact sheet was last updated in Spring, 2001.
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