Eating Disorders: Facts, Types, Causes and Treatments

Eating Disorders
Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

Eating Disorders Overview

Eating disorders are serious emotional problems that can cause physical problems later on. These disorders should be taken seriously since they can become life-threatening. Both women and men can suffer from any of the different kinds of eating disorders. However, more women have this problem with an estimated 10 million women and only 1 million men in the United States struggling with eating disorders. What really sets eating disorders apart from ordinary binge eating or fad dieting is going to extremes. In this article, we will be taking a closer look at the most common types of eating disorders.

See AlsoNot Only Women, Men Get Eating Disorders Too

Anorexia Nervosa

People suffering from this eating disorder tend to think that they are overweight although they are underweight. They typically eat less* than 1,000 calories daily and usually exercise excessively then vomit, take laxatives and diuretics with the goal of losing more weight. Studies indicate that about 1% of American women have anorexia, and this is a conservative estimate. It can also affect men, children and the elderly, but the majority of people who have this disorder are adolescent or young females.

Anorexia Nervosa

People with anorexia nervosa usually:

  • Maintain a weight that is about 15% (or more) lower than the normal body weight for their height.
  • Have an extreme fear of gaining weight.
  • Have a distorted image of their bodies.
  • Deny that they have a disorder or illness.
  • In women, stop* menstruation for at least 3 months in a row because being underweight lowers the normal estrogen production in the body.

People with anorexia nervosa may also have rituals connected with eating like cutting their food into little pieces, refusing to eat in front of other people or preparing food for others but not eating themselves. As a result of the disease, body temperature decreases*, bones and nails become brittle, skin becomes dry and yellowish and hair becomes thinner. Eventually, the eating disorder can cause low heart rate, low blood pressure and lead to an abnormal heart rhythm or even cause heart failure. The disease may also affect the brain and kidneys. Some people have even starved to death from anorexia.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa

People with bulimia nervosa usually binge on food then compensate for the excessive food intake by vomiting it later on. This is called purging that is deliberate vomiting, but it can also involve inducing diarrhea through laxatives. Some people with this eating disorder also exercise excessively or fast to compensate for the excessive amount of food they consumed. The binging part of bulimia nervosa is not the same as simple overeating because people with this disorder eat way beyond being full. They also feel like they cannot control* themselves even if they want to stop* eating.

As with anorexia, this eating disorder mostly affects women, and the problem usually begins during adolescence or early adulthood. A conservative estimate is that 1.5% to 3% of women in the United States have bulimia. The affected individuals are either of normal weight or overweight. Research indicates that about 50% of people with anorexia eventually develop bulimia later on in life.

People with bulimia usually:

  • Binge at least twice a week.
  • Feel like they cannot control* their eating binges.
  • Constantly think about food and their weight.
  • Eat when no one is watching and do so very quickly.
  • Binge until there is no food available, they are interrupted, or the stomach becomes very uncomfortable.
  • Feel guilty after binging and may purge.

The process of binging and purging regularly can cause serious health problems from an electrolyte imbalance and dehydration that can even lead to heart problems. Some cases have even resulted in the sudden death of the person with bulimia for still unclear reasons.

Binge Eating Disorder

People with binge eating disorder also feel out of control* when they are eating large amounts of food. The main difference with those who have bulimia is that people with this eating disorder do not purge, fast or exercise excessively after their binge. This disorder is also known as compulsive overeating, food addiction or emotional eating. The affected individual simply cannot stop* eating even if he/she wants to.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is the most common among the different eating disorders affecting about 3.5% of women and 2% of men. The problem usually starts during young adulthood but can also develop during adolescence.

People with binge eating disorder usually:

  • Binge at least twice a week.
  • Binge only when no one can see them.
  • Binge when they are not in a good mood.
  • Feel uncomfortable because of fullness afterward.
  • Feel guilty, distressed and depressed after a binge.
  • Are overweight or obese.

Binge eating usually leads to weight gain that increases* the risk of type-2 diabetes and nutritional problems. They also typically suffer from insomnia and poor quality of life.

Causes and Treatments of Eating Disorders

Pathologist still cannot pinpoint the exact cause of eating disorders, but studies suggest that there is a strong genetic risk. If a person has a relative with anorexia, he/she is 10 times more likely to have any eating disorder compared to another person who doesn’t have a relative with anorexia. However, certain factors can trigger the behavior like careers related to being thin or fit. Also, people with depression and anxiety are at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder. Those who have bulimia and binge eating disorder tend to have other impulsive behaviors like alcohol and drug abuse.

Related Video – Before and After Treatment: Eating Disorders Help

In a lifetime, a person can have all three disorder crossing over from one to another. Fortunately, eating disorders are treatable with psychotherapy, group therapy or cognitive-behavioural therapy. Some medications have been found to help in treating certain cases of eating disorders. Studies indicate that about 50% of people with anorexia can recover completely with the right treatment. About 40% with bulimia are also successful in treating the disorder while 60% with binge eating disorder are successfully treated.

References

  • Hudson, JI; Hiripi, E; Pope Jr, HG; Kessler, RC (2007). “The Prevalence and Correlates of Eating Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication”. Biological Psychiatry 61 (3): 348–58. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2006.03.040. PMC 1892232. PMID 16815322.
  • “Eating Disorders”. American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  • Patrick, L (2002). “Eating disorders: a review of the literature with emphasis on medical complications and clinical nutrition”. Alternative medicine review : a journal of clinical therapeutic 7 (3): 184–202. PMID 12126461.

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Author

Expert Author : Dr. Ahmed Zayed (Consumer Health Digest)

Dr. Ahmed Zayed Helmy holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. He has completed his degree in 2011 at the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed believes in providing knowledgeable information to readers. Other than his passion for writing, currently he is working as a Plastic surgeon and is doing his masters at Ain shams University.