Eating Disorders

FoodEvery year, approximately seven million U.S. women suffer from an eating disorder. It’s an important topic of concern among young women, as 95% of women suffering from eating disorders are between 12 and 25 years old.  Eating disorders and body image in general are an important topic of concern.  According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 80% of thirteen year old girls have tried to lose weight and 50% of girls ages 11-13 think they are overweight.  Most eating disorders begin before age 20: 95% of Americans suffering from eating disorders are between 15 and 25 years old.

Eating disorders can have serious emotional and physical consequences including malnutrition, heart issues, and suicide.  Only 10% of eating disorder victims, however, receive the treatment they need, which is why it is very important to be aware of the signs, symptoms, and available treatments for eating disorders.

The three main types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.  Anorexia nervosa is characterized by starving oneself to lose excessive body weight. Bulimia nervosa, in contrast, is characterized by binging—eating large amounts of food—followed by purging, usually through vomiting, using laxatives, or exercising excessively. Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia in that it is characterized by periods of eating beyond the point of feeling comfortably full.  Instead of purging, however, binge eaters suffer from feelings of shame or self-hatred after eating and often suffer from anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

It can be difficult to tell if someone has an eating disorder, because characteristic behaviors of eating disorders tend to be very secretive.

Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include any of the following:

  • Dramatic weight loss (and dressing in loose clothing or layers to conceal it)
  • Preoccupation with weight, food, fat, calories
  • Excessive dieting
  • Refusal to eat certain type of foods that are high in calories or fat (ex. breads, sweets, or meat)
  • Frequent comments about feeling fat despite weight loss
  • Complaining of stomach pain or constipation
  • Denies feeling hungry
  • Nervousness when eating in public
  • Strange eating habits
  • Obsessive exercise regimens
  • Below-normal body weight
  • Amenorrhea

Symptoms of bulimia nervosa include:

  • Binge eating
  • Purging
  • Overly concerned with weight loss or dieting
  • Nervousness when eating in public
  • Strange eating habits
  • Skipping meals
  • Hoarding food
  • Drinks excessive amounts of water
  • Hiding body with loose clothing or layers
  • Obsessive exercising
  • Swelling around the cheeks or jaw
  • Discolored or stained teeth from vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Body weight varying from below to above normal in short periods of time
  • Using excessive amounts of mouthwash, mints, or gum

Symptoms of binge eating are similar to bulimia symptoms with the exception of purging.

People suffering from eating disorders are much more likely to suffer from other serious physical and psychological disorders including malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, edema, muscle atrophy, paralysis, damage to the esophagus (from excessive vomiting), low or high blood pressure, anemia, osteoporosis, kidney trouble, amenorrhea, dental troubles, poor circulation, infertility, depression, and seizures.

Eating disorder sufferers are often treated with a combination of antidepressant medications and psychotherapy.  If you think you are suffering from an eating disorder, it is important to seek help immediately.  Find a friend or family member you can confide in and ask them to help you help yourself.  If you’re looking for more information on eating disorders, check out the following websites:

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