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Eating Disorders 

Eating disorders affect between 7-10 million people in the United States alone. Although typically associated with women, men account for up to 10 percent of individuals with eating disorders. The two most common easting disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Eating DisordersAnorexia Nervosa

This disorder is characterized by intentional starvation and excessive weight loss. Left untreated, anorexia nervosa can seriously threaten your health. An estimated 0.5 to 3.7 percent of females suffer from anorexia nervosa in their lifetime. It typically develops in early to mid-adolescence.

Warning Signs

  • Deliberate self-starvation with weight loss
  • Intense, persistent fear of gaining weight
  • Refusal to eat or highly restrictive eating
  • Continuous dieting
  • Excessive facial/body hair due to inadequate protein in the diet
  • Compulsive exercise
  • Abnormal weight loss
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Absent or irregular menstruation
  • Hair loss

People who suffer from anorexia often have low self-esteem, poor self-image and a tremendous need to control their surroundings and emotions. The eating disorder is often a reaction to external and internal conflicts (anxiety, stress and unhappiness).

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by a secretive cycle of binge eating (uncontrolled consumption of large amounts of food) followed by purging (ridding of food through vomiting, laxatives, fasting or vigorous exercise). Bulimia occurs in 0.5 to 2.0 percent of adolescents and young adult women and typically develops in mid-adolescence.

Warning Signs

  • Preoccupation with food
  • Binge eating, usually in secret
  • Vomiting after eating
  • Abuse of laxatives, diuretics, diet pills
  • Denial of hunger or drugs to induce vomiting
  • Compulsive exercise
  • Calloused, scratched knuckles
  • Stained, eroded teeth
  • Swollen salivary glands

People suffering from bulimia nervosa tend to have ongoing feelings of isolation, selfdeprecating thoughts, depression, poor selfimage and low self-esteem. Eating disorders frequently co-occur with other psychiatric disorders such as depression, substance abuse and anxiety.

Health Consequences

  • Serious heart, kidney and liver damage
  • Malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Ruptured stomach
  • Tooth/gum erosion
  • Tears of the esophagus
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Brittle hair and nails

Causes of Eating Disorders

Cultural and psychological issues, personality traits and learned behavior all contribute to eating disorders. Some general issues that can contribute to the development of eating disorders include:

  • Perfectionism
  • Feelings of lack of control in life or feelings of inadequacy
  • Low self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy
  • Depression, anxiety, anger or loneliness
  • Troubled family and personal relationships
  • History of being teased based on size or weight
  • Cultural pressures that glorify "thinness"

Treatment Options

Treatment for those with eating disorders often involves a multidisciplinary team including nurses, psychotherapists, physicians and nutritionists. With treatment, about 60 percent of individuals with eating disorders fully recover. Medications are beneficial in treating underlying depression. Hospitalization may be needed for severe cases. Specialized eating disorder treatment centers are available to meet this population's specific treatment needs.

Importance of Psychiatric Treatment

Without treatment, up to 20 percent of people with serious eating disorders die. With treatment, that number falls to two to three percent. The serious health consequences from prolonged unhealthy eating or restrictive habits make it important to identify the disorder early on.

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