Eating disorders are illnesses that involve irregular eating habits and a severe concern about body weight, shape or overall appearance. They affect both genders, although rates among women and girls are 2.5 times greater than among men and boys. Eating disorders usually appear during adolescence or young adulthood but could also develop during childhood or later adulthood.
Types of Eating Disorders
Anorexia Nervosa: People with the eating disorder called anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight even though they are dangerously thin. People with anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight even though they may be dangerously thin. Unusual eating habits develop, such as avoiding food and meals, picking out a few foods and eating these in small quantities, or carefully weighing and portioning food.
Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa
- thinning of the bones
- brittle hair and nails
- dry and yellowish skin
- growth of fine hair over body
- mild anemia and muscle weakness and loss
- severe constipation
- low blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse
- drop in internal body temperature, causing a person to feel cold all the time
- infrequent or absent menstrual periods
Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over the eating. This binge-eating is followed by purging (vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics), fasting, or excessive exercise.
Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa
- chronically inflamed and sore throat
- swollen glands in the neck and below the jaw
- worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth as a result of exposure to stomach acids
- gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD)
- intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
- kidney problems from diuretic abuse
- severe dehydration from purging of fluids
Binge Eating Disorder and EDNOS: Another category is "eating disorders not otherwise specified,” or EDNOS, which includes several variations of eating disorders. Most of these disorders are similar to anorexia or bulimia but with slightly different characteristics. Binge eating disorder is one type of EDNOS.
People with binge-eating disorder experience frequent episodes of out-of-control eating. But they do not purge their bodies of excess calories, and many people with this disorder are overweight or obese. They experience feelings of guilt, shame, or distress, often leading to another cycle of binge eating.
Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating2
- Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time
- Feeling that your eating behavior is out of control
- Eating even when you're full or not hungry
- Eating rapidly during binge episodes
- Eating until you're uncomfortably full
- Frequently eating alone or in secret
- Feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty or upset about your eating
- Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss
The goal of treatment is to restore adequate nutrition, practice a healthy diet, bring weight to a healthy level, and stop unhealthy behaviors such as binging and purging1.
Treatment plans include psychotherapy, medical care, and/or medications such as antidepressants.
A well-established, highly effective, and lasting treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, which focuses on identifying, understanding, and changing thinking and behavior patterns. Benefits are usually seen in 12 to 16 weeks, depending on the individual.
Taking medications under a doctor’s supervision and joining a support group are also sound treatment options.
Treatment for eating disorders also includes nutritional management and nutritional counseling.
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1. Eating Disorders: About More Than Food. (2014). NIMH.
2. Binge-eating Disorder. (2017). Mayo Clinic.