Eating Disorders

Among the mental disorders which are highly stigmatized are eating disorders. These disorders have often been mistaken as trends and thought to be able to be controlled by those experiencing variances in their dietary intakes. For centuries, people have been focused on body image, and many people have believed that eating disorders are synonymous with diets in which those who may be unsatisfied with their appearances control their food intake in order to attain their desired body shape and size. However, eating disorders are not phases, diets, or situations able to be controlled by those suffering without intervention. Rather, eating disorders are complex behavioral problems in association with food which often stem from mental or emotional conflicts and which can pose grave medical complications. While those experiencing eating disorders may have symptoms associated with being concerned about their image, the onset of the disorders is more likely to have been caused by such severe factors as trauma, overwhelming stress, relationship upheaval, anxiety, or depression. In order to maintain a sense of stability within their lives, people may choose to control their food consumption, but, if the underlying factors are not appropriately dealt with, they often find that their sense of control is unstable, and, soon, they lose control of their actions associated with eating. This can cause a variety of consequences; for example, many who suffer from eating disorders may feel such emotions as embarrassment, fright, or shame, which may lead them to be introverted and not seek help. Yet, it is imperative that people suffering from eating disorders receive treatment as these disorders are often aggravated without intervention and can produce numerous complications, including life-threatening consequences.

Eating Disorders

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What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are complex behavioral problems with regards to dietary intake which generally stem from mental and emotional complications. They are both compulsive and perpetuating and cause those who suffer from the disorders to experience a lack of control over their own eating habits. People with eating disorders may try to restrict caloric intake, eliminate food once it has been ingested, or eat excessively with guilt and shame. Whatever the case, eating disorders are unhealthy and can cause serious medical ramifications.

Why is it important to seek help for eating disorders?

Eating disorders are hazardous to the physical, mental, emotional, and soulful well-being of those who suffer from the disorders. Their consequences can range from difficulties focusing to life-threatening complications. Since eating disorders replace willpower with obsessive compulsions, they require urgent intervention as the quicker that treatment is sought the better the chances for recovery.

Who is affected by eating disorders?

People with a vast array of identifiers, such as age, gender, ethnicity, race, or socioeconomic factors, can be at risk of eating disorders. Yet, there are tendencies for some people to be at an augmented risk, such as young females, people who have family members experiencing the disorders, those who experience increased levels of stress, and individuals who thrive on competition. As eating disorders stem from emotional and mental complications, people who have such inclinations as undervaluing themselves, placing an emphasis on perfectionism, and blaming themselves for relationship upheaval may also be at heightened risks of eating disorders.

What can trigger eating disorders?

While there are some eating disorders that originate from a variance in hormones or neurotransmitters within the body, many cases are caused by overwhelming stress. There are several stress factors which can prompt eating disorders, such as abuse, bullying, peer pressure, and unrealistic expectations set by society as well as those who suffer from the disorders, but, in the vast majority of cases, eating disorders stem from the need to control feelings of inadequacy and pain. Many people suffering from the disorders begin to use food as a way to manage their feelings, and, for a while, their habits may seem to bring them comfort, but, as time progresses, the combination of unhealthy obsessive behavior and a lack of adequate nutrients being supplied to the body causes them to feel worse, leads them to experience a lack of control, and often interferes with their daily functioning.

What are the three most common eating disorders?

The three most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. Whereas anorexia and bulimia are aimed at restricting the amount of calories within the body through such actions as starving the body, ingesting and then ridding the body of food in an unnatural manner, or engaging in immoderate exercise, Binge Eating Disorder involves consuming excessively large quantities of food in short periods of time without ridding the body of calories but, rather, with extreme feelings of guilt. One of the symptoms of anorexia entails those who suffer from the disorder to consider themselves overweight, even though they are most often considerably underweight, and, as a result, to deprive themselves of the food needed to sustain their bodies. Anorexics attempt to control themselves through the food that they administer to their bodies and frequently starve themselves or eat and purge, through such means as vomiting or inappropriately taking laxatives and diuretics; they may also use overly-exhaustive amounts of exercise as a way to rid themselves of the calories consumed. Yet, what starts as an attempt of control becomes an unhealthy habit which mandates intervention. People who struggle with Bulimia Nervosa also practice the action of eating and purging in order to rid their bodies of calories, but most often they maintain an average weight for people of their stature. Bulimia entails eating overabundantly in short spans of time, within two hours, and then using a variety of methods to rid the body of the food consumed. In order to be considered bulimic, people struggling with the disorder engage in its associated behavior at least one time per week for a period of three months or more. Binge Eating Disorder, which is the most common eating disorder, resembles bulimia but does not include the action of purging. People who binge eat are not motivated by factors of hunger but, rather, emotional factors, and, while binging can include foods craved, it most frequently occurs with food that the people who struggle with the disorder would not commonly eat. Binge Eating Disorder is accompanied by feelings of shame, embarrassment, disgust, and guilt which persuade those suffering from the disorder to eat alone, but it is important for bingers to recognize that they should not blame themselves but, instead, should seek treatment.

What are some indicators that people might be struggling with eating disorders?

Since people of differing weights can experience a variety of eating disorders, it can be difficult to determine who may be struggling. Yet, there are a number of warning signs that may help indicate if people are experiencing difficulties with eating disorders. For example, with regards to physical well-being, those battling eating disorders may experience changes in weight, may report having abdominal cramps or irregularities in their bodies’ digestive or excretory systems, may become easily faint, or may seem excessively lethargic. They may also be overly concerned with their appearance and any flaws that they perceive, or, as is often the case with anorexics, may wear layers of clothes to mask their reduction in weight. With regards to their mental well-being, people confronting eating disorders may seem easily frustrated, depressed, embarrassed, or displeased with themselves. Their thinking may seem to be uncompromising, and, despite experiencing a lack of inner control from their eating disorders, they may outwardly appear to want to take charge of situations. They may also seem unfocused in their daily tasks, as they are preoccupied with such matters as weight and nutritional content of food. Changes in emotional well-being may vary between drastic mood swings, including irritability, and a lack of emotional expression. Often, people experiencing eating disorders seem to be withdrawn from their peers and families and might not participate in activities. Other warning signs may include people skipping meals, avoiding eating in public, denying hunger, having food rituals, or obsessing over exercise; if these practices continue for prolonged periods of time, they may indicate complications.

What are some physical effects associated with eating disorders?

The predominant issues with eating disorders not only stem from their underlying mental and emotional factors but also from the lack of nutrients being supplied to the body. Since the body is not receiving adequate nutrients which are necessary to provide energy, to aid in proper functioning, to facilitate in the regeneration of cells, and to strengthen bones and muscles, many complications can arise. Eating disorders can impact every system within the body. Heart and kidney problems, as well as nerve impairment, stemming from inappropriate amounts of electrolytes within the body; digestive and intestinal complications associated with malnutrition and purging; fainting and dizziness due to the insufficiency of blood reaching the brain; problems with the menstrual cycle due to decreased levels of some hormones; conditions such as Diabetes Type 2 which can occur due to the body developing a resistance to insulin or anemia which can result from a lack of iron; and infections aggravated by a decrease in the amount of white blood cells within the body are just a few of the many implications that can be associated with eating disorders. Moreover, dehydration, loss of sensation, and the inability for the body to sustain proper temperature can cause additional complications. Ultimately, if left untreated, eating disorders have the potential to be life-threatening. Considering the vast and severe toll that eating disorders can take on the body, intervention is urgent.

Are eating disorders treatable, and, if so, how effective is treatment?

While treatment for eating disorders is possible, there are a few factors to keep in mind. First, since eating disorders immensely impact the body, the sooner that help is sought, the better the chance that treatment will be effective in limiting repercussions. Next, it is imperative that those receiving intervention recognize the importance of staying committed to their treatment program. Due to fear, feelings of defeat and hopelessness, and loss of control, some people struggling with eating disorders may inflict additional harm on themselves by engaging in suicidal tendencies or drug use, and these actions can complicate intervention. Therefore, treatment may be most effective if the underlying causes of the eating disorders are dealt with; this may also be able to help avoid relapse. Moreover, treatment should stress the importance of prolonged self-assessment and care. Those who recover must make sure that they implement and engage in long-term practices that can help them maintain their health.

What types of intervention may be helpful for eating disorders?

Since there are different eating disorders and a multitude of differing factors that can bring their onset, treatment will vary considerably and must be tailored on an individualistic basis. However, the most common types of intervention are therapy, medicine, nutritional counseling, and programs designed to help those recovering to reclaim their proper body weight. There are a number of therapeutic treatments which differ in emphasis and technique. Among the treatments, some of the differing priorities include recognizing and understanding the underlying contributing factors of eating disorders, focusing on the thought processes that perpetuate the disorders, and learning how to change actions despite thoughts and feelings. Techniques of varying interventions may include changing beliefs, values, and the thought processes responsible for the eating disorders; learning new tasks that can help overcome underlying struggles; and focusing on present actions to combat the disorders. One type of therapy that has gained acclamation is the Family-Based Approach, also known as the Maudsley Approach, a 24/7 type of treatment in which, rather than trying to focus on the underlying causes of the disorder or point the blame, the family unit works together as a support team to help the member who is struggling with an eating disorder rise above the obstacles.

Why are some people who suffer from eating disorders reluctant to obtain help?

In order for any treatment to be effective, there has to be an acknowledgement that a problem exists, but many people experiencing eating disorders do not admit they have difficulties until their disorders have posed severe complications to their bodies. Some people are reluctant to acknowledge their difficulties and obtain help because they do not recognize that their actions are troublesome. For example, because anorexia causes people to be overly concerned about their body images, those who restrict their food intake may believe that their eating habits are necessary to achieve their desired results. On the other hand, people who binge and purge often recognize that they are having problems and feel a lack of control, but they may be frightened to obtain help due to fear of judgment. Additionally, many people with Binge Eating Disorder often don’t seek the help that they need for their eating disorders because they feel ashamed.

What should people do if they suspect others who are suffering from eating disorders?

It is imperative that people who suspect that others are battling eating disorders be honest with them. Often, it is the recognition of families and friends that alert those who are experiencing eating disorders that there are real problems occurring. Since society tends to place an emphasis on being thin, those losing weight may believe that the eating practices in which they are engaging are acceptable. Those gaining weight may believe that they are experiencing temporary setbacks due to stress. It is usually not until they realize that they have lost control of their actions that they recognize intervention is necessary, and, even at that, they may not seek help. Yet, when loved ones become aware of the warning signs and symptoms of eating disorders and are able to recognize the indicators within those battling the disorders, they may be the best chance in seeking intervention before the disorders pose severe complications. Families and peers should also form support networks to help those who are battling eating disorders and be ready to provide care when needed.

How can music serve a significant role in helping people that are struggling with eating disorders?

Since music is effective in helping people who are experiencing stress, anxiety, and fear, it can be a support to those who are battling with eating disorders. Music has a calming nature and tends to elevate mood which can assist people in their self-discovery to be optimistic and may help them feel a sense of empowerment. Music can also relay positive messages of self-worth to those who are struggling to feel valued. Some artists have written about the importance of being one’s self and of not conforming to society’s standards. Songs about such issues as bullying, peer pressure, relationships, anxiety, and depression may also assist people suffering from any of these issues to overcome their obstacles before they can lead to severe eating disorders.