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What Causes Eating Disorders, Types, Symptoms And Treatment

Medically reviewed by Darshita ThakkarNutrition Training and Quality Manager for PAN India

Eating disorders affect millions of teens and young adults around the world.

They are most common in cultures that focus on weight and body image and can affect people of all genders, races, and ethnic backgrounds.

Eating disorders are mental disorders defined by abnormal eating habits that negatively affect a person’s physical and mental health [1]. Such conditions have a serious impact on health, productivity and even, relationships.

People who have a negative body image are at risk of developing eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or a category called Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED).

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Eating disorders have serious health consequences and require treatment.

Recovery is likely with the help of specially trained health care providers and a supportive family.

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Types of Eating Disorders

1. Anorexia Nervosa

People suffering from anorexia live under the constant fear of gaining weight when they actually happen to be underweight.

They tend to diet relentlessly to a point of starvation.

Their distorted body image makes them believe that they are overweight or are constantly putting on weight.

Some of them may also become obsessive about counting calories and portion control. If not treated in time, anorexia may lead to organ failure and malnutrition [2].

9 Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

  1. Dramatic weight loss. Anorexics are usually underweight.
  2. Obsessed with dieting and counting calories.
  3. Skipping meals regularly.
  4. Refusal to eat certain foods, such as carbs or fats.
  5. Exercising excessively.
  6. Worrying about being “fat”, intense fear of weight gain.
  7. Disturbed menstrual cycle.
  8.  Frequent constipation or stomach ache.
  9. Low self-esteem linked to body image.

Treatment of Anorexia Nervosa

Treatment for anorexia is generally done using a team approach, which includes doctors, mental health professionals, and dietitians, all with experience in eating disorders.

Ongoing therapy and nutrition education is highly important to continued recovery.

2. Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by repeated episodes of binge eating followed by behavior that compensates for overeating such as forced vomiting, excessive exercise, or extreme use of laxatives or diuretics.

Victims of bulimia may live under the intense fear of weight gain and suffer from body image issues. They are ashamed of their weight.

The binge-eating and purging routine is typically followed in secret, creating feelings of shame, guilt, and lack of control.

Since bulimics usually tend to hide their characteristic behavior, it is difficult to spot the disorder early.

If left untreated, bulimia can manifest in long-term health problems like abnormal heart rhythms, bleeding from the esophagus due to excessive reflux of stomach acid.

In fact, researches have proved that in the long run, if untreated, this condition can result in complications like diabetes, weak bones, kidney and reproductive issues [3].

6 Symptoms of Bulimia

  1. Binge-eating in fixed intervals.
  2. The urge to purge excessive food intake by forced vomiting or consuming diuretics.
  3. Skipping meals or avoiding eating in front of others, or eating very small portions in public.
  4. Exercising aggressively.
  5. Attempts to hide the body in loose clothes.
  6. Constantly complaining about being “fat”.

Treatment of Bulimia

When you have bulimia, you may need several types of treatment, although combining psychotherapy with antidepressants may be the most effective for overcoming the disorder.

Treatment generally involves a team approach that includes you, your family, your primary care provider, a mental health professional and a dietitian experienced in treating eating disorders.

You may have a case manager to coordinate your care.

3. Binge Eating Disorder

Most of us, use the term ‘binge eating’ casually for indulging in our favorite delights to our heart’s content. Sadly, it can also be a serious eating disorder.

Binge-eating disorder is one of the most common disorders in the world and is often linked to depression and poor mental health.

 Emotional eating
Emotional eating

Victims tend to indulge in emotional eating as it relieves them from stress and disturbing self-image issues. You may feel you can’t stop eating while you are not even hungry to eat.

You feel guilty about eating, and go back to eating again to feel better, and use food as a reward for yourself. This way, you may be trapped in vicious cycle.

Unlike bulimia nervosa, periods of binge-eating are not followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting.  

As a result, people with binge-eating disorder are often overweight or obese [4]. In the long-run, binge-eating may lead to heart diseases, poor blood circulation, diabetes, kidney and liver dysfunction and joint pains due to excessive weight.

8 Symptoms of Binge-Eating Disorder

  1. You tend to eat much more food than you would on normal occasions.
  2. Might You feel guilty and depressed about eating so much.
  3. Fees like  helpless and out of control at the thought of limiting your food intake.
  4. Eat really fast – at a pace which may not be normal.
  5. Indulge in bingeing at least once a week for about 3 months on an average.
  6. Social withdrawal from friends and family.
  7. Have to eat even when you are not hungry almost to a state of discomfort.
  8. Try to eat alone so no one sees you eating.

Other Eating Disorders

In addition to the above eating disorders, less-known or less common eating disorders also exist. These generally fall under one of two categories:

  • Purging Disorder: Individuals with this disorder often use purging behaviors, such as vomiting, laxatives, diuretics or excessive exercising, to control their weight or shape. However, they do not binge.
  • Night Eating Syndrome: Individuals with this syndrome frequently eat excessively, often after awakening from sleep.
binge eating
binge eating

Treating Eating Disorders

First, accept that there is a problem. In most cases, people suffering from eating disorders are too embarrassed, living in denial or simply unaware of the severity of their condition to seek help.

An eating disorder is not just a matter of a dietary fix but a psychological condition that requires psychiatric intervention and lifestyle changes.

If the victim is in denial, people around them must remind him or her of the severe consequences.

An eating disorder is treatable as long as you acknowledge the condition and open up to your counselor, psychiatrist, and nutrition expert.

A comprehensive treatment specializing in eating disorders is often fundamental in recovery, which cannot be successful if you aren’t honest to your counselor or dietitian.

Doctors may prescribe medication to help manage the urge to starve or binge. A dietitian may chart out a customized daily diet plan to help you deal with the symptoms.

Yoga and meditation can also take your focus away from negative thoughts, and help in building a positive body image.

This was all about various eating disorders we thought you should know about. If you experience any of the above-discussed symptoms, do see your medical practitioner.

If you wish to steer clear of such problems and wish to know more about healthy living and clean eating, talk to our expert Truweight Nutritionist today.

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