Types of eating disorders include various conditions. However, all of them fall under the umbrella of an unhealthy relationship with food. They usually stem from psychological or emotional problems. Life-threatening symptoms can eventually result if proper care and treatment are not sought. One commonly held view is that such disorders can be easily cured. However, few people have actually gotten better simply through mind over matter or by making lifestyle changes. It is true that such conditions involve conscious choices. Nevertheless, eating disorders are, in reality, serious illnesses. They cannot always be controlled effectively by the person suffering from the condition unless he or she seeks help.
Not all types of eating disorders can be specifically classified, but most fall under one of three categories: bulimia, binge eating and anorexia nervosa. Below are some essential facts about each major type of eating disorder and how they are treated by professionals.
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Also referred to as bulimia nervosa, bulimia is a serious disorder that can be life threatening, depending on how long one has suffered from the condition. Individuals dealing with this condition typically binge eat in the same manner as those who are afflicted with binge eating disorder. The primary difference between the two conditions is that those with bulemia typically engage in purging behavior after they have eaten to excess. For example, after a large amount of food is consumed, the person may do one of several things to eliminate the extra calories.
For example, he or she may exercise to the point of exhaustion or force vomiting. The person may also ingest inappropriate amounts of laxatives in order to force food through their system before calories are absorbed. One should note that such behaviors may overlap. For example, a person may do all three of these activities in order to counteract the effect of excessive food consumption. However, as the disorder progresses, certain individuals begin purging after only a normal sized meal or even a small snack.
Characteristics of Bulimia
Those suffering from bulimia are usually preoccupied with their body shape and weight. They often view themselves harshly and severely for self perceived flaws, many of which do not even exist. As with other eating disorders, symptoms are not always the same and usually vary at least somewhat among patients. The most common symptoms of bulimia are outlined below:
• Chronically sore and inflamed throat, usually from forced vomiting
• Enlarged saliva glands in the jaw and neck
• Gastrointestinal problems such as acid reflux disorder
• Abnormally worn or damaged tooth enamel
• Electrolyte imbalance–too high or too low levels of potassium, calcium and sodium
• Decaying teeth from continuous stomach acid exposure
• Dehydration from purging
• Intestinal irritation and distress from abusing laxatives
The risks associated with bulimia include ulcers, heart attack–from electrolyte imbalance–tooth decay, ulcerative colitis, acid reflux disorder, ruptured esophagus and esophageal cancer.
Binge Eating Disorder
Nearly everyone overeats on an occasional basis. For example, most people at one time or another have probably felt “stuffed” after a big meal such as Thanksgiving dinner. A person may also sometimes indulge in a rich dessert even if he or she is already full. However, this behavior in and of itself does not mean that an eating disorder is present.
Binge eaters suffer from a serious condition that leads to uncontrolled overeating. Such individuals typically eat this way on a continuous basis. In most cases, they do not stop even if they become physically sick. Fortunately, the condition is treatable. Sadly, however, among the three primary types of eating disorders, it is the one for which people seek treatment for the least. This may be due to embarrassment or telling themselves that they will eventually start a diet and solve their problem without the need for professional help.
Binge Eating Disorder Characteristics
Although symptoms vary somewhat from one person to the next, most binge eaters suffer from the following:
•Continuous uncontrolled urge to eat that is rarely overcome
•Feeling extremely stressed or upset after binging
•Eating large amounts of “junk” foods, such as ice cream, candy, or potato chips
•Eating to the point of physical sickness
Interestingly, unlike bulimia, vomiting, fasting or over-exercising to eliminate the excess calories are not typically associated with binge eating. Rather, those suffering from this disorder often do nothing to “make up” for their overeating and frequently become depressed. The depression is usually linked to a poor self-image, as most binge eaters eventually gain significant amounts of weight that they despair of ever losing.
A Dangerous Cycle
Although momentarily comforting, binge eating is closely associated with regret and self-loathing. Once a person has reached the point of severe obesity, he or she may feel unable to cope. Certain individuals may think that being severely out of shape and carrying substantial extra weight will motivate the person to diet. However, unfortunately, the worse one feels about his or her appearance, the more inclined that person is to use eating as a coping mechanism. This causes the disorder to take the form of a vicious cycle: turning to binging for comfort, then feeling depressed, unattractive and hopeless and once again turning to food for relief.
Those suffering from binge eating disorders likely also struggle with feelings self-hatred and guilt. Anxiety may also play a role, as the person may be dogged by fears about what such behavior will eventually do to his or her body. Hopelessness usually stems from not understanding why the behavior cannot be effectively controlled.
Health risks associated with binge eating are the same as those associated with obesity for any other reason. These include heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.
Among the primary types of eating disorders is anorexia nervosa, often referred to simply as “anorexia.” Like the other conditions, it is an emotional disorder. It manifests through a person’s deliberate avoidance of appropriate food consumption. In layman’s terms it is often called “self starvation,” as this is precisely what the term anorexia nervosa means.
Characteristics of Anorexia
The self starvation engaged in by those suffering from anorexia is fueled by an irrational, obsessive fear of gaining weight. Unfortunately, this fear is usually unfounded.
Many individuals who suffer from this disorder are already thin when the condition takes hold. This leads them to continuously pursue what they regard as the ideal body. Sadly, the disorder eventually leads to malnourishment or even death. This is because those suffering from anorexia are typically never satisfied with the amount of weight loss achieved.
Regardless of the cause, the symptoms of anorexia nervosa typically include the following:
• Emaciation-extreme fitness
• Abnormally restricted eating patterns
• Unwillingness to maintain a healthy, normal weight
• Never thinking an appropriate weight has been achieved, regardless of how much weight is ultimately lost
• Irrational fear of gaining weight
• Distorted body image
• Self esteem that exclusively depends on weight
The health risks associated with anorexia nervosa include brain damage, osteoporosis, anemia, muscle weakness and wasting, abnormally low blood pressure, multi-organ failure, infertility, extremely low body temperature, brittle nails and hair, dry skin and severe constipation.
Causes of Various Types of Eating Disorders
All types of eating disorders typically develop during young adult or teenage years. They are approximately five times more common in girls and women than in men. Because such conditions predominately affect people–particularly women–in Western countries, much controversy has arisen regarding whether or not the media plays a role in the development of such conditions.
Perhaps the most famous eating disorder patient to date is Karen Carpenter, who suffered from anorexia nervosa. People often say that when a celebrity develops an illness, it increases public awareness of that particular affliction. Unfortunately, this is quite true. The Carpenters were one of the most gifted musical duos in history. Karen’s life, however, was cut short due to heart failure. The latter was a side effect of years of self starvation. Her death in November of 1983 resulted in national attention being called to the condition.
Following Ms. Carpenter’s death, anorexia nervosa quickly became a household term. Nevertheless, all the awareness from then until now has done little or nothing to lessen the occurrence of the condition.
Whether or not the media is to blame for certain instances of anorexia may always be a controversial topic. This is because such statistics are virtually impossible to prove. However, many health experts cite movies and television shows that feature actresses who are unnaturally thin as a contributing factor to the disorder. Obviously, it is no secret that most people, especially young women, want to emulate their idols. Therefore, it is not surprising that they look at this abnormal thinness as a virtue they want to copy.
Kate Beckinsale struggled with anorexia prior to becoming an actress, and spoke frankly in interviews concerning this issue. She remembers looking at pictures of ultra-thin celebrities when planning her career. However, as previously mentioned, there is no way to say definitively that this caused her disorder. Fortunately, she has since recovered and moved on with her life and career. Calista Flockhart, Kate Winslet, Diane Keaton, Paula Abdul, and Alanis Morrissette are among many other celebrities who struggled with anorexia. Therefore, one must wonder how many young women are unknowingly using someone who is suffering from an eating disorder as their role model.
Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the “perfect” Hollywood image presented to the public is only one part of the problem. Another common factor among anorexics is childhood sexual abuse. For reasons unknown to psychologists, those who suffered such abuse in childhood often resort to self starvation or develop bulimia. It may be that for certain victims of abuse, self starvation becomes a way to gain control over their lives. If the disorder developed as a side effect of childhood trauma, it is important for the person to receive comprehensive treatment. A psychologist can address not only the eating disorder, but the various issues surrounding the past abuse.
Although many individuals who suffer from eating disorders never experienced childhood abuse or fell prey to the media’s obsession with thinness, some cases are idiopathic. The latter is a term that simply means a specific cause for the disorder cannot be determined. In other words, the person may have grown up in a stable home free from abuse and was not unduly influenced by Hollywood’s version of the ideal body. However, the person may still have a distorted body image that eventually led to anorexia, bulimia or a binge eating disorder.
In addition, it has been determined that certain eating disorders are linked to substance abuse, depression or a lack of coping skills. Only a trained psychologist or other medical professional can evaluate the patient, and this must be done on a case by case basis.
Health researchers are currently studying genetic factors and their role in the development of eating disorders. At least in one study, it was determined that such conditions tend to run in families. Whether or not this is due to genetics or learned behavior has not yet been determined.
Brain scans are also being used in certain cities to evaluate women with anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Scientists have already found differences in brain activity patterns among women suffering from such conditions when compared with healthy individuals. Research of this kind can help guide the development of new treatments and diagnostic tools.
Many times, eating disorders eventually lead to isolation. This is because those who engage in activities such as binging and purging require a high level of privacy to conceal their problem. This makes it difficult for friends and family members to realize that such a disorder is present. Although friends and loved ones may know something is wrong, an eating disorder may be the furthest thing from their mind. In certain cases, the condition is not discovered until family members seek medical care for their loved one because they believe the person is physically ill.
Treatments and Therapies
Therapy for all types of eating disorders include the same general treatments. However, specific care plans vary substantially among patients. For example, foundations of treatment include stopping purging behaviors, reducing excessive exercise and embracing adequate nutrition. Therapy plans are then tailored to the needs of each individual and may include family, group or individual psychotherapy. In addition, medications, nutritional counseling, and medical care and monitoring may be prescribed.
Psychotherapy may involve family members, particularly if childhood abuse was a factor. However, individual counseling solely between the therapist and patient may be the best approach for those whose disorder stemmed from idolizing underweight celebrities.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is typically recommended for those with binge eating disorders or bulimia. Cognitive behavioral therapy is another type of psychotherapy that teaches individuals coping skills that do not involve eating or purging.
In some instances, a psychologist, psychiatrist, or medical doctor will recommend interpersonal psychotherapy. This type of therapy centers on relationship problems or interpersonal issues that may contribute to self starvation or compulsive binging.
Certain patients may benefit from dialectical behavior therapy as well. This kind of treatment combines cognitive behavioral techniques with mindfulness meditation. It has been highly successful among teenagers and victims of sexual abuse.
In certain cases, medications such as antidepressants or tranquilizers may be prescribed for those with one of the three types of eating disorders listed above. However, of all the treatments available for such conditions, drugs tend to have the least positive effect. Certain health researchers are of the opinion that this is because use of medication does little more than mask symptoms.
Other professionals believe that reaching for a pill instead of indulging in destructive eating behaviors is simply substituting one negative course of action with another. However, for some people, medications are highly effective. Therefore, therapy of this type should be discussed in depth with one’s health care professional.
Medical practitioners who offer therapy for such disorders include psychologists, nutritionists, cognitive behavioral therapists, eating disorder counselors and obesity specialists. A family doctor can advise the patient concerning which type of professional is the best qualified to treat his or her disorder.
It is essential for all treatment programs to address more than just eating patterns in order for the patient to enjoy long-term success. Therapy should address any underlying mental or emotional condition or trauma that triggered the disorder.
Regardless of why a person has developed one of the aforementioned types of eating disorders, anyone who is suffering from any of these conditions should seek professional help. The longer a person procrastinates, the lower his or her chances of making a full recovery. By seeking treatment early, the most effective therapy can be selected. This helps to ensure successful management of the condition and in many cases, a full recovery.