While it may appear that the general health of American citizens is in a state of decline, some individuals are resorting to dangerous methods to improve their appearance or revolutionize their body image. Eating disorders are extremely prevalent in society today, and new eating disorders are being discussed in medical and health circles. There are many different types of eating disorders and these disorders are characterized by different actions, and different emotional and/or psychological triggers. Specific eating disorders will have varying effects on the individual's health and treatment options will vary greatly depending on the type of eating disorder. Below is a general overview of common eating disorders, possible triggers and signs of an eating disorder, and where to seek help.
Signs Of An Eating Disorder
Identifying an eating disorder is often very complicated and challenging. Individuals who suffer from an eating disorder may be unwilling to accept the truth about the harmful nature of their actions. These individuals may rely on trusted friends and family members to provide them with awareness. Signs of an eating disorder include:
- Dramatic fluctuations in body weight
- Frequent trips to the restroom after eating
- Eating large quantities of food with no noticeable weight gain
- Excessive tooth decay
- Preoccupation with weight or body image
- Persistent illness
- Delayed puberty
Anorexia nervosa is a disorder characterized by a refusal to consume sufficient nutrients and calories over an extended period of time. Individuals with anorexia are often obsessive about their appearance and their weight. They may use a body scale several times a day, portion food obsessively, consume only small quantities of food or no food at all and even purge overindulgent meals. Anorexia nervosa can be a long-term struggle or appear in haphazard spurts throughout an individual's life.
Bulimia nervosa is a disorder characterized by a pattern of overeating and purging. The cycle begins with binge eating wherein the individual consumes large portions of food and exhibits no control over this behavior. After binge eating, a bulimic person will experience intense fear and guilt. These feelings prompt the individual to purge the meal through vomiting, fasting or even excessive use of laxatives.
Binge Eating And Obsessive Dieting
Until recently, binge eating and obsessive dieting were not characterized as eating disorders. However, recent studies have proved that these disorders can be just as emotionally and physically damaging as anorexia and bulimia. Binge eating disorder, or BED, is characterized by consuming large quantities of food that do not correspond to hunger pangs or nutrition needs. Binge eaters do not purge their food after these eating episodes and are usually overweight or obese. On the opposite side of the spectrum, obsessive dieting is characterized by an indulgent need to participate in frequent weight-loss programs and diet regimens that may be dangerous or harmful to an individual's health.
Mental And Emotional Triggers
Most experts agree that eating disorders are characterized by a preoccupation with weight, body image, and/or food, but the reasons why an eating disorder develops are much more widely varied. An eating disorder can be an emotional, mental, or even a physical disorder. Issues that occurred during youth or development are often discovered to be triggers for eating disorders. For example:
- Verbal abuse with regards to weight or appearance that occurred during childhood can often lead to the development of an eating disorder.
- Some individuals' eating disorders are triggered by movies, magazines or television shows that portray a specific body image or lifestyle.
- Other triggers may include specific types of food, such as candy or junk food, an emotional trauma such as the death of a loved one or an emotionally turbulent breakup or other emotional issues such as increased stress, depression or anxiety.
There are thousands of resources available for individuals who are struggling with an eating disorder, as well as for the families and friends of these individuals. Therapy sessions, treatment programs, treatment facilities and campuses, and a wealth of literature and media are offered throughout the world to help individuals who struggle with one or more of these prevalent conditions. Physicians, psychiatrists and nutritionists are striving worldwide to show individuals with eating disorders that they are not alone and that help is available. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has information about health facilities, treatment options and diagnosis advice. For more information from NEDA and other resources, visit the links below.