UNDERSTANDING EATING DISORDERS & THEIR HEALTH RISKS
Whether you are concerned about anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorders, understanding why one starts is an initial step to recovery. Eating disorders usually develop during puberty or late adolescence but have also been shown to develop later in life, starting with a diet that often becomes an obsession.
Some cases of eating disorders have been linked to genetics, but further studies need to be conducted in order to determine how strong this link might be. A chemical imbalance also has been seen in certain individuals with eating disorders (similar to depression).
A national survey of nearly 3,000 men and women diagnosed with eating disorders, showed that:
- More than 50% of the individuals with bulimia had major depression
- 50% had phobias
- More than 33% had a substance abuse problem
The same survey showed that about 65% of individuals with an eating disorder had been previously diagnosed with at least one other psychiatric illness.
Although the exact causes for developing an eating disorder are not known
, a variety of biological, social and environmental factors can put someone at risk, including:
Eating disorders are coping mechanisms.
- Genetic and biological factors or traits such as anxiety or perfectionism
- Participating in activities that encourage low weight, such as ballet, long distance running
- Low self-esteem
- Pressure from society
- Dysfunctional family dynamics
- Family and childhood traumas (childhood sexual abuse, severe trauma)
- Stressful transitions or life changes, such as starting college
Just as someone might use drugs or alcohol to relieve stress, individuals with eating disorders turn to food. The particular relationship that the individual has with food may help them calm down during a time of anxiety, help manage the way they are feeling or be a coping mechanism during high-stress situations. Individuals may or may not be aware that they are using food as a companion.
Because the eating disorder provides a temporary feeling of comfort, it can be difficult to stop without professional treatment.
Talking with family and friends, seeking professional medical help or calling a hotline such as the National Eating Disorder Association (1-800-931-2237) are the best steps forward to recovery.
's goal setting tool
can help you begin your path to wellness. Remember an eating disorder is not just about food, it is a complex mental illness that needs to be addressed.
Health Risks & Consequences
Eating disorders are a serious medical problem that can have long-term health consequences if left untreated. It's common for people with eating disorders to hide their unhealthy behaviors and some also have trouble holding a job.
If you have a feeling you or your child isn't well, it's important not to be silent and seek professional help. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder in the U.S. and account for a suicide rate that is 75% higher than the general population.
It is common for eating disorders to occur with one or more other psychiatric disorders such as depression. This can makes diagnosis even more complex and compounds the health consequences.
As the eating disorder progresses, the signs of depression get worse. The longer the anorexia, bulimia or BED continues the more the body's normal functions are strained and become deprived of essential nutrients, which can lead to a number of health complications including:
- Bone problems such as osteopenia and osteoporosis
- Irreversible neurological damage (in severe cases)
- Cardiovascular issues such as tachycardia and heart attack
- Mild to severe dental problems
- Hair loss
- Ongoing stomach problems -- GERD and acid reflux
In addition to the above health complications, individuals with bulimia put a dangerous strain on their body during purging episodes. Click here
to learn about the effects of purging on specific parts of the body
A CONVERSATION ABOUT OVEREATING
When talking about eating disorders it is important to discuss overeating. Many wonder if overeating is an eating disorder. Over 61% of American adults are overweight or obese and many of these individuals are binge eaters who consume large amounts of food even when they aren't hungry, and tend to binge in secret. When binge eating becomes compulsive it has crossed over to become a type of eating disorder referred to as binge eating disorder (BED).
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA):
- As many as 40% of obese individuals are binge eaters whom require treatment
- The other 60% are overeaters who can reverse their habits with healthy eating and exercise
Binge eating is a much more common illness, according to researchers. To those who suffer from it, the food they consume makes them feel good and gives them comfort. These people will describe their relationship to food as a companion relationship.
They may become obsessed with food or may display signs of hoarding food (storing large quantities of food secretly).
Although non-compulsive overeating is not considered an eating disorder, it can often lead to the development of a true eating disorder and comes with negative symptoms of its own including high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and arthritis.
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