Eating disorders are potentially life threatening conditions
that compromise an individual's physical and emotional
well being. Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge
Eating Disorder are the three most common eating disorders.
Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by self-starvation
and extreme weight loss. Bulimia Nervosa involves episodes
of binge eating (out of control eating beyond the point
of feeling full) followed by purging through such means
as self-induced vomiting or use of laxatives. A person
with Binge Eating Disorder engages in binge-eating,
but typically does not compensate with purging behaviors.
All three conditions have serious physical consequences
including potentially permanent damage to the heart,
bones, and digestive system. Ultimately, the unhealthy
eating behaviors linked to these disorders can be fatal.
Each of these disorders involves an unhealthy relationship
with food and discomfort or dissatisfaction with one's
natural body shape and size. However, it is important
to understand that eating disorders are not really about
food or weight; the symptoms of these disorders mask
underlying struggles with self-esteem, identity, and
People with eating disorders often feel isolated, overwhelmed,
and out of control. Developing extreme patterns of eating,
fasting, and exercising is one way they try to exert
control over their lives. Unfortunately, this sense
of control is false, as these behaviors actually make
it more difficult for one to regain a healthy lifestyle.
Although eating disorders are most common among girls
and young women, they can affect both males and females
of every racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and age group.
Because of the serious physical and emotional effects
of eating disorders and their tendency to spin out of
control, it is important to seek professional help immediately
if you think that you or someone you care about is suffering
from an eating disorder.
What causes eating disorders?
Some of the internal factors that can contribute to
eating disorders are low self-esteem, feeling out of
control in life, depression, anxiety, anger, or loneliness.
In addition, there are a number of life experiences
that can lead to eating disorders, including troubled
relationships, difficulty expressing one's emotions
to others, and a history of being teased about one's
size or weight. These psychological and interpersonal
factors interact with the social and cultural norms
that make up our cultural context.
We live in a society that glorifies thinness and places
pressure on people to strive for the "perfect body."
Advertisements and other media promote unrealistic body
images and encourage us to buy products that will help
us to achieve these visions of beauty. These cultural
expectations can be harmful to everyone. For individuals
already struggling with low-self esteem and experiencing
a lack of control in their lives, the ambition to achieve
an "ideal body" can become an obsession.
What can I do?
If you or someone you love may be suffering from an
eating disorder, it is important to ask for help as
soon as possible. If you are concerned about a loved
one's eating behavior or attitudes about his or her
body, set aside time to talk in a safe space. Be supportive,
expressing your specific concerns without blaming or
demanding that they change their behavior. If your friend
or family member disagrees with what you are saying
but you are still concerned, remind them that you are
available to talk whenever they want to. You can research
eating disorders and share what you have learned with
There are many treatment possibilities, depending on
the needs of the individual. In general, because the
origins of these conditions are psychological struggles
with self-esteem, identity, and emotional well being,
individuals with eating disorders are treated with psychological
counseling that addresses both the unhealthy eating
behaviors and the underlying emotional issues. Psychological
treatment should be paired with medical care and education
about nutrition. Depending on the severity of the disorder,
individuals may need to spend some time in an inpatient
program. It is always better to start treatment as soon