Making healthy choices for long-term well-being is not as simple as it sounds, and we at Future Health understand this. For example, Americans are bombarded with information and warnings about obesity, all based on solid research that concludes that this condition leads to stroke, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and more. But equally destructive is not eating enough, or compulsive overeating. These are eating disorders that also carry grave health risks. To bring attention to eating disorders, February has been named National Eating Disorders Awareness month.
Eating disorders are a group of serious conditions in which individuals are totally preoccupied with their body image and the consumption of food. In the U.S., eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. Two common types of conditions that are of particular interest to physicians and therapists are Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa.
According to the National Institutes of Health, both the demographics of eating disorders and the treatment for them are changing. Awareness of what constitutes eating disorders, as well as how to help prevent and treat, will be getting a lot of attention over the next several weeks. Here is a place to begin.
Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by the refusal to eat food due to a distorted perspective of self-image. The highest prevalence is seen in women in their late teens and early twenties. Diagnosis is centered on four criteria: refusal to maintain minimal normal body weight, intense fear of gaining weight, disturbance in the way they see their body weight, size or shape, and for females the absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles.
Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by episodes of purging. Like anorexia, people with bulimia are extremely concerned with their body image and have an intense fear of gaining weight. Individuals with Bulimia often secretly eat excessive amounts of food and then purge by ridding their bodies of what they have just eaten. Purging includes self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, fasting, strict dieting or improper use of laxatives. Bulimia typically develops in adolescence between the ages of 12 and 20, a time when individuals are particularly susceptible to social and media influence on images of body weight and shape. Some signs of development include obsession with calories consumed and lowered blood pressure.
According to the NIH, new research shows that despite the difficulty in determining the prevalence of eating disorders, much has been learned over the last decade. According to NIH-funded studies, hospitalization rates for eating disorders rose 18 percent between 1999 and 2006. Those who suffer from the disorder are not mainly white, upper middle class females as previously believed. Anorexia is a concern not just in western countries but now also in other countries such as China. Also, although sufferers continue to be mainly women, men are suffering from eating disorders at a growing rate.
Further, new research has cast doubt on previous treatment plans that excluded parents, viewing them as part of the problem. This NIH-funded research has shown that for young sufferers, excluding parents is less effective than including parents as part of the treatment plan. One study, for example, reported that 50 percent of those who took part with parents included continued their full remissions a year after the therapy ended. New studies are applying the inclusion of families in treatment of adult sufferers of eating disorders.
There are links between obesity and eating disorders – both can include binge eating, and both have been linked with anxiety and depression. Some are concerned that our focus as a nation on obesity could lead to more eating disorders. That is why one of the goals at Future Health is to provide information so individuals will have help in making the choices that lead to a healthy life.