by Kimberly Allen, RN
Eating disorders are a group of conditions characterized by abnormal eating habits. These abnormal eating habits can be either not enough or too much food intake. Experts estimate that at least 8 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder, 95% of which are between the ages of 12-25. Eating disorders are much more common in females but males can be affected as well. At least 1 out of every 200 young women suffer from anorexia and between 2 and 3 out of every 100 young women suffer from bulimia in the US. Approximately 10-15% of men in the US suffer from anorexia or bulimia. Approximately half of all Americans know someone suffering from an eating disorder personally.
Experts also estimate that approximately 20% of all those that have anorexia will die prematurely from complications that develop due to the anorexia. They further estimate that 10% of people with anorexia die with in 10 years of onset with another 20% dying after 20 years.
People that suffer from eating disorders become so preoccupied with food and weight that they can not focus on anything else. This single minded focus can lead to serious health problems to the point it become life threatening. Eating disorders are classified as mental health disorders and as with many other mental health disorders the exact cause is unknown though researchers have found several potential causes. Most experts believe that genetics play a role in making people more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder. Another huge factor is society. In Western culture success and value are frequently associated with being thin. Young girls are particularly susceptible to peer pressure and what is seen on TV. People that are already suffering from emotional disorders like low self esteem, anxiety disorders and depression. Stressful events like going off to college or starting a new job etc can also put you at risk for developing an eating disorder.
There are numerous different types of eating disorders but the three most common are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. In anorexia nervosa people have an irrational fear of weight gain as well as a very distorted perception of their body image. This causes them to work very hard to maintain an abnormally low body weight. They can achieve this by severely restricting their food intake and/or excessive exercise.
In Bulimia nervosa people tend to have weight fluctuations however, they rarely reach the severely low weight associated with anorexia. People with this disorder develop a cycle of binge eating and then purging, which is usually accomplished by self induced vomiting and/or laxative use. People with this type of disorder also tend to exercise compulsively.
People with binge eating disorder eat excessive amounts of food, usually junk food, without trying to compensate by purging. They frequently develop feelings of guilt and shame after binging which in turn frequently triggers another episode of binging.
Many people with eating disorders, especially teenagers, are very good at hiding their problem until a crisis occurs. Treatment of eating disorders involves psychotherapy no matter what type of eating disorder you have as well as nutrition education. Though there are no medications that can cure an eating disorder there are medications that can help you to manage your preoccupation with food and diet as well as help you to control the urge to binge and purge.
Many people with eating disorders struggle with them their entire lives. It’s important to develop a support system and good coping skills to avoid relapses and potentially life threatening situations.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.