When someone experiences severe disturbances in eating behaviour, such as an extreme decrease in food intake or extreme overeating, or extreme distress or concern about their body weight or shape, it is a sign of eating disorders.
People with eating disorders may begin by eating more or less food than usual, but eventually, the urge to eat less or more becomes uncontrollable.
There are many factors at play regarding eating disorders, and despite scientific research to understand them, the biological, behavioural and social determinants of these illnesses remain elusive.
1. Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia nervosa is considered by experts to be the deadliest mental illness due to its high mortality rate. It can, therefore, be considered the most severe of the 8 types of eating disorders.
Often, severe food restriction is accompanied by excessive exercising and other purging behaviour. Individuals with this condition may have the following signs and symptoms:
- The fear of gaining weight, even small amounts, is unbearable.
- Losing weight quickly and consistently staying underweight. It can be alarming for family and friends to see them so thin.
- Unaware of the health risks associated with such a low body weight.
- Amenorrhea occurs when a woman stops menstruating due to a low-fat diet.
- Heart damage: There are several life-threatening heart conditions that can occur as a result of Anorexia.
2. Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia Nervosa is caused when a person repeatedly eats large quantities of food and then purges it. Purging behaviours include throwing up, over-exercising and taking laxatives or diet pills. It is dangerous to binge and purge, and they can cause dangerous physical symptoms when combined.
3. Muscle Dysmorphia
The majority of people who suffer from Muscle Dysmorphia are men, contrary to most eating disorders. This disorder is characterized by an obsessive desire to keep a fit physique and musculature.
4. Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
The symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder are episodes of binging on large amounts of food. The term “Binge” describes consuming an excessive amount of food within two hours.
The after-effects of bingeing include feeling guilty and ashamed and weight gain. Most people with BED do not engage in purging behaviours, unlike people with Bulimia. Those with BED are typically overweight or obese due to their bingeing.
5. Compulsive Over Eating (COE)
Compulsive Over Eating disorder is very close to binge eating disorder. The distinct characteristic of COE is that the individual does not binge in spurts but rather eats large amounts of food all day long.
6. Prader Willi Syndrome
This syndrome causes excessive eating and obesity due to an inherited genetic defect. The symptoms begin with babies’ weak muscles, poor feeding, and slow growth.
A child suffering from this disease will have an insatiable hunger for years to come. Diabetes is common in children with Prader-Willi syndrome, and they often find it hard to adapt to normal life.
7. Selective Eating Disorder
This eating disorder is somewhat similar to picky eating, but it is severe and debilitating. People eat so selectively, only taking in one or two meals a day, that they become sick.
With a slightly unfamiliar sounding name, this term characterises an eating disorder that tags along with alcoholism. Those suffering from drunkorexia restrict food and purge to “save calories” to drink alcohol. If drunkorexia is left untreated, severe malnutrition may result.
Treatments for Eating disorders
Most eating disorders can be treated with psychological and medicinal treatments. However, in more chronic cases, no specific treatment has yet been identified.
In these situations, treatment plans often include medical care and monitoring tailored to the patient’s individual needs, medications, nutritional counselling and individual, group and/or family psychotherapy.
In addition, some patients may require hospitalisation for malnutrition, weight gain or other reasons.
To sum up
Eating disorders are unclear in their causes and nature and researchers and medical professionals are still studying the cure. Unlike a neurological disorder, which certainly can be narrowed to a specific lesion on the brain, an eating disorder likely goes through abnormal activity distributed across brain systems.
Researchers also are working on describing the basic nature of the disorders, which should positively help identify better treatments in the future. For example, researchers are trying to understand if Anorexia is a result of irregular body image, self-esteem problems, obsessive thinking, compulsive behaviour, or a combination of all?
Is there a way to predict or identify the risk factor before extreme weight loss occurs? Therefore, can it be curbed?
Scientists and doctors may answer these questions in the future if eating disorders are considered medical illnesses with biological causes.