Eating disorders

Drug abuse and addiction / Category / Emile Du Toit / May 5th 2014

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are a group of disorders that generally interfere with the normal consumption of food. An eating disorder cannot be defined by how much someone weighs or what someone eats, but by the quality of his or her thinking in relation to food and weight. Eating disorders are serious psychiatric disorders, which if left untreated can result in the deterioration of one’s life and even death.

Categories of eating disorders

Eating disorders can be divided into the following diagnostic categories:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Compulsive overeating

  • Anorexia nervosa

    What is anorexia nervosa?

    Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder generally occurring in young women and characterised by a distorted body image, a fear of obesity, weight gain and an unwillingness to eat.

    The drive to become thinner or weigh less is actually secondary to the fear associated with loss of control and fears associated with the body. Sufferers continue to restrict food intake, often to the point of starvation, in order to feel a sense of control over their bodies. This obsession is similar to that of an individual with a drug addiction or an alcohol-abuse problem.

    Body image in anorexia

    The issue of body image is quite complex. Regardless of weight, someone with anorexia tends to see themselves as being fat. As such, they continue to starve themselves in order that they might ‘see’ themselves as thin.

    The problem here is that when they reach the ‘number’ or desired weight, they may still feel overweight and in need of further weight loss. They view the loss of weight as a success and the gaining of weight as a defeat. They associate your weight with your self-worth or self-esteem. The lower their weight, the better they tend to feel about themselves. Unfortunately the feeling is short lived.

    Signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa

    People with anorexia tend to struggle with the following:

  • appear to have lost weight and be too thin
  • be secretive about their eating
  • try to eat alone
  • prepare meals for others, but not eat it themselves
  • appear to be very faint (the result of starvation)
  • have dry or thinning hair
  • possess extensive information about nutrition
  • experience the absence of menstruation (in the case of females)
  • grow thin hair all over their body (the result of starvation)
  • eat in a ritualistic manner (cutting food into small pieces, taking small bites, being quiet at meal times, chewing very slowly)

  • Long-term consequences of anorexia

    Anorexia has the highest death rate of any psychiatric illness. Starvation causes major organs to shut down. Heart attack is the most common causes of death.

    Osteoporosis is another danger of anorexia. Low calcium intake is part of the problem, but the development of amenorrhea (no longer menstruating) prevents the body from absorbing calcium.

    Do you suffer from anorexia nervosa?

    Here is a list of questions to help you to discern whether you might be suffering from anorexia nervosa. It is not diagnostic, but if you tick any of the following points on this list then I would encourage you to seek professional help.

  • Do you have an intense fear of becoming fat, even when underweight?
  • Do you deny the seriousness of low body weight?
  • Do you have a problem or distortion in the way you view your body?
  • Do you have an intense fear of gaining weight, even when underweight?
  • Do you refuse to maintain an appropriate Body Mass Index (BMI) – where your body weight is appropriate for your age and height?
  • If you are a woman who has not yet gone through menopause, have you experienced the absence of 3 menstrual cycles?

  • Bulimia nervosa

    What is bulimia nervosa?

    Bulimia is best described by episodes of binge eating followed by various methods of trying to control one’s weight. These methods might include self-induced vomiting (purging), excessive exercise, abuse of laxatives or abuse of diuretics.

    This cycle of overeating, purging and experiencing the feelings afterwards can become as compulsive and obsessive as drug addiction or alcoholism.

    Compulsive binge eating

    The core of bulimia and the secrecy that is connected with it stems from the shame that bulimics attach to the disorder. Compulsive eating is not triggered by intense hunger. It is often the response to feelings of sadness, depression or stress. Compulsive eating or binge eating often produce an immediate feeling of calm (euphoria), which is followed by anxiety and self-loathing for overeating.

    Purging

    In an attempt to offset possible weight gain and to deal with the feelings of anxiety and self-loathing, sufferers embrace a method to rid themselves of food and calories (self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics or exercising compulsively). Immediately after expelling food or fluids, they may experience feelings of euphoria and relief.

    Unfortunately, these feelings are short lived, as the shame attached to the behaviour sets in. To deal with the depression and shame, bulimics see overeating as a solution. This becomes a vicious cycle.

    Not all bulimics engage in self-induced vomiting or the abuse laxatives, enemas or diuretics. Many fast for days after binge eating. Others turn to drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines or methamphetamines Regardless of the chosen method the goal is to gain control of weight, feelings and people. Unfortunately, this can never be accomplished.

    Health risks experienced by bulimics

  • high cholesterol
  • heart problems
  • oesophageal ruptures
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • dental problems

  • Compulsive overeating

    What is compulsive overeating?

    Compulsive overeating is a compulsive behavior characterized by excessive food consumption, despite negative consequences.

    While no one is sure what causes compulsive eating, we do know that many compulsive eaters report feeling depressed. Another common thread is that many binge eaters also report having been sexually abused. While these issues are common to most, everyone reports that they tend to binge over feelings of sadness, anger, resentment, boredom, anxiety or joy.

    Consequences of overeating

    Compulsive overeaters often experience some of the following long term problems:

  • heart disease
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • bone and joint deterioration
  • high blood pressure
  • gall-bladder disease

  • Losing weight: crash diets versus lifestyle change

    Most people have tried diets and have lost weight only to gain it – and more – back again. This process might happen several times in a person’s life, so it has become referred to as ‘yo-yo dieting’.

    Rather than dieting, a healthy eating plan is recommended, along with therapy and exercise. Most healthy eating plans lean toward reducing or eliminating sugar and reducing carbohydrates. The key is moderation. When a sufferer reaches a point when the weight ‘number’ does not determine their self-worth, quality recovery is not far away.

    Often there are underlying psychological conditions such as depression or low self-esteem that also need to be addressed.

    Do you suffer from binge eating or compulsive overeating?

    Here is a list of questions to help you to discern whether you might be suffering from anorexia nervosa. It is not diagnostic, but if you tick any of the following points on this list then I would encourage you to seek professional help.

  • Do you feel your eating is out of control?
  • Do you eat until you are so full you are uncomfortable?
  • Do you eat large amounts of food, even when you are not hungry?
  • Do you eat much more quickly during binging?
  • Do you eat alone because you are embarrassed about the amount of food you eat?
  • Do you eat what most people believe is a large amount of food?
  • Do you feel depressed, disgusted or guilty after overeating?
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