Understanding Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are common illnesses which affect many people. These disorders commonly occur during adolescence or young adulthood. Additionally, eating disorders appear at a greater rate in women. Eating disorders have both mental and physical aspects. Patients usually suffer from underlying psychological problems which cause unhealthy eating habits. There are two common eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, as well as another disorder know as binge eating.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by a patient’s distortion of her own body image and a fear of gaining weight. Individuals with anorexia nervosa believe that they are overweight even when they are actually extremely underweight and malnourished. This leads to avoiding weight gain through extreme eating behavior. Patients only eat very small portions of food and only eat occasionally, at best. Some many only eat certain foods. Anorexia results in severe malnutrition, which causes numerous health problems. These include anemia, thinning of the bones, brittle hair and nails, dry and yellowish skin, muscle weakness and loss, low blood pressure and lethargy.

Treating anorexia is usually done with a combination of medical and psychological treatments. The main goal of treatment is to return a patient to a healthy weight, treating the underlying psychological issues and eliminating unhealthy eating behaviors which cause the eating disorder.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder in which an individual has recurrent episodes of binge-eating followed by unhealthy eating behavior which rid her of the food just consumed. These behaviors include vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or excessive exercise. The repetitive process of consuming large amounts of food followed by the unhealthy purging habits can vary in intervals from patient to patient. Most often this occurs several times a week. Patients with bulimia suffer from similar body image distortions as anorexic patients. However, it is possible for individuals with bulimia to be at a healthy weight for their height and age.

Because of the purging behavior, bulimia patients may suffer from additional symptoms. These symptoms include an inflamed and sore throat, oral and tooth-related problems, gastroesophageal reflux disorder, intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse, severe dehydration and gastrointestinal problems. Treatment for bulimia is similar to anorexia, as both physical and psychological aspects need to be managed. Psychotherapy and nutritional counseling are common treatments.

Binge Eating Disorder

Eating disorders do not just affect those who are underweight. Binge eating is an eating disorder similar to bulimia in that it involves periodically consuming excessive amounts of food. However, binge eating patients do not follow these events with purging. Therefore, unlike people with anorexia or bulimia, binge eaters are usually overweight or obese. Obesity can bring on a whole new set of health problems including hypertension diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

People with a binge eating disorder often share similar qualities as those with other eating disorders. These include possible psychological illnesses which can bring upon the disorder. Treatment is similar to bulimia, and appetite suppressants may be prescribed.


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