Eating Disorders are Widespread and Serious

Whether you eat too much or too little, whether you are female or male, and whether you are young or old—if you are a human being, it is possible for you to develop the malady known as an “eating disorder.” And with as many as 11 million Americans already suffering from one of the three primary forms of this illness, if you don’t have one of them yourself, it is likely you know someone who does.

Symptoms and causes

Although they are primarily manifested by physical actions and physical results, eating disorders are typically treated as a psychiatric illness. A plethora of studies have been conducted on the many manifestations of eating disorder—many of them are cited in the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) booklet on the subject—yet the mortality rate from the various forms of eating disorder continue to be higher than any other mental disease.

Contributing factors are low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, unsatisfactory personal relationships, abuse and cultural-social pressures. Scientists are also researching the biochemical and genetic ties involved. Eating disorders are baffling. They can cause a physically fit person to see themselves as severely overweight or an already overweight person to go on binge eating episodes that launch them into obesity.

When should you be concerned about yourself or someone you know? Following are some of the symptoms that characterize the three main types of eating disorders:

Anorexia nervosa
  • Starving oneself and claiming to not be hungry
  • Preoccupation with ones body weight
  • Exercising too much
  • Underweight frame and sunken facial appearance
  • Fainting spells and dizziness
  • Loss of hair
Bulimia nervosa
  • Over-eating, then forcing oneself to vomit
  • Excessive use of laxatives
  • Preoccupation with body shape
  • Eating in secret and hiding food
  • Low self-esteem
  • Eating way too much—to the point of discomfort
  • Eating quickly, without regard for amount
  • Often eating alone and outside of regular meal times
  • Feeling guilty after a binge
  • Gaining relief only by eating
  • Hiding and stockpiling food
Eating disorders are similar to alcoholism, in many ways. Those who suffer from an eating disorder are often seen as weak-willed or self-indulgent. Well-meaning friends and family may try to step in and help with information about new diet plans or relationship advice. If one is to recover, though (and these disorders can be life-threatening), it is wise to seek the help of a qualified mental health counselor or psychiatrist.

Eating disorders signal the existence of underlying problems. For more information, see the NIMH website.

Author Lane Goodberry focuses on health and the environment.



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