Eating Disorders Are Legitimate Medical Conditions
One of the most important issues to address is that an eating disorder is not something that can just be easily fixed if somebody puts their mind to it. A person with an eating disorder has a legitimate, true medical condition or illness, and to successfully recover; professional treatment is typically required.
Of course, there are still questions about how initially voluntary behaviors turn into compulsions, and unhealthy behaviors morph into full-fledged eating disorders. This is a topic of ongoing research, and everything from the biology of appetite suppression and alteration to psychological and physiological factors applies. Today, there have been pharmaceutical advances in the treatment of eating orders and an increased understanding of potential avenues for therapy, treatment, and recovery.
Development of Eating Disorders & The Risks of Eating Disorders
The majority of eating disorders are initially developed in adolescence and early adulthood. However, it is not entirely uncommon for an eating disorder to manifest from childhood to full adulthood. Across any age, the majority of those suffering from eating disorders are female, with between 85 and 95 percent of those with anorexia and bulimia being female and approximately 65 percent of those with binge-eating disorders being female.
Additionally, many eating disorders co-occur with psychiatric disorders or illnesses. This may include depression, anxiety, or substance abuse, amongst others.
There are serious health risks associated with eating disorders. In fact, eating disorders can potentially be fatal due to heart condition, kidney failure, or even extreme malnourishment and starvation. This is why it is important to recognize eating disorders as true medical conditions and serious issues that must be treated accordingly.
Most Common Types of Eating Disorders
The two most common types of eating disorders have names that most are likely familiar with, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Additionally, binge-eating disorder is another formal classification as well.
Anorexia Nervosa Facts & Information
Research shows that between .5 to 3.7 percent of females will suffer from anorexia nervosa during their lifetime. Individuals with this condition have an intense, deeply held fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.
This is true even when they are already unhealthily underweight. Such individuals are resistant to maintaining healthy body weight and may take extreme measures to avoid this. One important factor in understanding this is that those with anorexia nervosa are typically in denial or unaware that they are unhealthily underweight. Despite being dangerously underweight, their self-perception is that they are actually overweight.
Eating and the lack thereof is an obsession, and it offers them an avenue for control. Only minimal amounts of foods are eaten, typically of particular food types, while many meals are skipped entirely.
Obsessive checking of bodyweight is common. Techniques to reduce weight beyond food intake control may include compulsive over-exercise, along with purging via vomiting and/or the abuse of diuretics, laxatives, or enemas.
Females with anorexia nervosa will often have infrequent, irregular, or absent menstrual periods. There are also potentially fatal consequences of anorexia nervosa. The mortality rate for those with anorexia is .56 percent per year, or 5.6 percent per decade, which is 12 times higher than the annual death rate due to all other causes for females aged 15 to 24. Complications that may lead to death include electrolyte imbalances, extreme malnutrition, cardiac arrest, and suicide.
However, full recovery is also possible from anorexia nervosa. Some individuals may experience one episode or period of suffering from the condition before recovering. Others may experience ongoing patterns of healthfulness and relapse. For others, the condition becomes chronic and continues to become more severe over a period of years.
Bulimia Nervosa Facts & Information
Bulimia Nervosa will affect 1.1 to 4.2 percent of females during their lifetime. Bulimia nervosa is characterized by excessive overeating, followed by vomiting or other purging techniques.
During such a period of binge eating, those with bulimia nervosa lack control during the episode, which lasts for a short amount of time. Immediately following this, individuals may induce vomiting or utilize diuretics, laxatives, enemas, or other medications to prevent weight gain. They may also compulsively over-exercise or go through a period of fasting. A common period of bulimia nervosa may include two episodes of binging and purging per week, or more, for a period of three or more months.
Individuals with bulimia nervosa fear being overweight and gaining weight and are unhappy with their physical appearance. During binge eating, such individuals will feel guilt, shame, and even disgust with themselves. This is replaced with feelings of relief and control after purging.
One common misconception about those suffering from bulimia nervosa is that, as opposed to those with anorexia, many individuals here actually weigh within a normal, healthy body weight range. This makes it easier to hide the condition, and indeed, the majority of individuals who have bulimia will attempt to hide their binging and purging behaviors from family and friends. However, their health is suffering, and malnourishment and imbalances may still occur, amongst other health issues.
Binge-Eating Disorder Facts & Information
The binge-eating disorder affects between 2 and 5 percent of Americans during their lifetime. Recurring episodes of excessive overeating characterize binge eating in short amounts of time, during which such individuals feel a complete lack of control of their eating behavior.
Excessive eating is typical to the point of feeling uncomfortably full and overeating despite not being hungry. Many such individuals feel disgusted, guilty, or ashamed by their behaviors. They may eat entirely alone, not to be viewed or judged by others. Patterns of binge eating may include, on average, at least two days per week for a period of six or more months.
A similarity to bulimia nervosa lies in the excessive overeating in short periods of time and the lack of control during this behavior. However, those with binge-eating disorder do not purge.
Those with the binge-eating disorder tend to be overweight or obese. A common pattern occurs when the individual may binge eat, feel guilty and ashamed, and then binge eats again as a refuge from those feelings, creating a lasting, recurring cycle.
Eating Disorder Treatment
There are successful treatments for eating disorders, and individuals suffering from these conditions can make full recoveries. It is essential, though, to diagnose an eating disorder as soon as possible, to begin providing treatment, and, in some cases, avoid worsening symptoms and physical health.
Successful treatment of eating disorders requires a multifaceted approach. This may include psychosocial intervention or therapy, nutritional counseling, medical care and monitoring, and pharmaceutical management. Some individuals may require hospitalization due to deteriorating physical health or potentially the risk of self-harm.
Many individuals suffering from eating disorders do not believe they have a problem. Such individuals may resist getting treatment or receiving assistance. Support and encouragement from family and friends are essential. Long term treatment is often required to overcome eating disorders fully.
A three-phase approach for the treatment of anorexia includes:
- Restoring weight to healthy levels.
- Addressing psychological factors including low self-esteem, distorted body image, depression, and interpersonal conflicts.
- Long-term remission and rehabilitation, reaching full and sustained recovery.
The specifics of treatment and its success rate will depend on the individual. The success rate is also increased with earlier diagnosis.
Some individuals may be prescribed prescription medicines, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, which help resolve mood and anxiety symptoms associated with anorexia. Inpatient treatment is often recommended. Such programs will address medical and nutritional needs, and in some cases, intravenous feeding is recommended or even required.
Achieving and maintaining a normal weight and reaching full physical health is the priority, at which point cognitive-behavioral or other forms of psychotherapy may be utilized to address underlying issues and patterns. Joint or family therapy sessions are often recommended as well.
Successful treatment of bulimia will require nutritional rehabilitation, psychosocial intervention, and medication management. The goal is to allow an individual to establish a pattern of regular non-binge eating meals while improving and addressing underlying psychological issues and treating co-occurring conditions.
Bulimia treatment options may include individual cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy and group or family therapy, psychotropic medications, and nutritional counseling and planning.
Latest Eating Disorder Research & Findings
There have been a variety of advancements made with research into eating disorders. Some of the recent developments here include:
- Establishing a structured pattern of eating is successful for interrupting the binge-eating cycle. Individuals do not feel as hungry or deprived, and negative feelings towards food and eating are reduced, both of which decrease the frequency or likelihood of binging.
- Studies performed involving family members and twins suggest both anorexia and bulimia have hereditary components. Researchers are working to discover the specific genes related to susceptibility to these conditions, and multiple genes and environmental factors are likely involved.
- Neuropeptides may play a key in the future treatment of eating disorders. These molecular messengers help to regulate both appetite and energy expenditure.
- Gonadal steroids are another key topic of investigation. Their importance is suggested by the gender differences of these conditions and their emergence with puberty.
- Another topic of study about eating disorders is the neurobiology involving emotional and social behavior and the neuroscience of feeding behavior.
- Ongoing topics of study currently include the effectiveness of psychosocial interventions and medications and different combinations of the two for successful treatment.