Research has shown that some children in elementary school may have already started to become food conscious or start to be concerned about weight gain. Eating disorders may become more serious in adolescence, when the individual becomes attuned to their sexuality and their identity is changing. The progression of eating disorders can last for many years before the individual is at a point where they seek help or are forced into treatment. Estimates are that ninety percent of the individuals who have an eating disorder are between the ages of twelve and twenty five. The data suggests that overall, ten million females and one million males may have an eating disorder at one point in their lives
There are three major forms of eating disorders, Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder. Individuals who have Anorexia Nervosa appear to have a distorted view of their own body. They see themselves as always being heavier than they really are. Even when they are exceedingly thin, they still see themselves as in need of losing more weight. In their obsessive drive to lose weight they avoid food, obsessively weigh their meals, or count calories. They may engage in other behaviors to control their weight, such as excessive exercising, use of laxatives, enemas, or diuretics to ensure that they do not gain weight or force food out of their system.
Bulimics are individuals who also have a distorted body image and are also afraid of gaining weight. They may be under weight, heavy, or of normal weight. However, no matter what their body type is, they still have a disturbed eating pattern. They tend to eat massive amounts of food in one sitting or secretly. They may feel unable to stop the excessive eating and purging. The foods they eat may be more carbohydrate or sugar oriented, and may have little or no nutritional value. After they binge they become ashamed of their behavior and they will purge their system to get rid of the food they just ate. To be diagnosed with this disorder, it has to occur at least twice a week for a three month period.
Individuals with Binge Eating Disorder will experience similar symptoms to the individual with Bulimia. However, the difference is Binge Eaters do not purge themselves. Since they do not purge, Binge Eaters are usually overweight and they may have had a lifetime of problems with food and weight. The Binge Eater's self dissatisfaction and shame causes them to be self-punitive and self-destructive, which fuels the binging behaviors. To have this disorder the binging has to occur at least for two days in a week for at least six months.
Eating disorders are medical disorders which appear to be due to a combination of genetic and psychosocial influences. Research studies have shown that family genetics may make one more susceptible to having an eating disorder. The data suggests that eating disorders may be an outgrowth of several genes, which makes pinpointing the exact contributing genes very difficult. Family dynamics and psychosocial influences send individuals messages which affect their self-image and inner strength. If an individual who has a genetic predisposition to develop an eating disorder is made to feel inadequate, or bad about themselves, they may be pushed into developing the disorder.
Men and women both suffer from these disorders. Women seem to develop eating disorders more than men. According to recent research, men represent 5 to 15 percent of people with anorexia or bulimia and they are reported to be approximately 35 percent of those with binge-eating disorder. As with many disorders which the public views as being emotionally based, men tend to see these problems as a sign of weakness. They deny having what they see as emotionally based problems. Therefore, it is believed that there are many men out there with the disorder who will not admit their problems or seek help.
The hallmark signs of eating disorders are unusual or odd eating habits. People with eating disorders may eat only one kind of food, never eat in public, spend considerable amounts of money on food, or organize their lives around when and where they will eat next. Although there is such great attention to food, the real problem with all of the eating disorders is an underlying reality that the person is out of control of their eating and food. Distorted body image, mood changes, depressive thinking and anxiety are also fairly common features of all of the eating disorders. There are variations in symptoms in the different diagnostic categories. For example, anorexics use severe methods to lose weight, such as excessive use of diet pills, not eating much food in front of others, exercising to extreme, often talking about food, and wearing baggy clothes to hide their body. Bulimics may use pills to make the food leave their body quickly, go to the bathroom after they eat to purge, and they also may exercise excessively. Binge Eaters may be overweight and have had long term issues with their weight. They may be more secretive about their eating, since they tend to eat large amounts of food in a relatively short period of time.
Many individuals with eating disorders are in denial that they have a problem. Denial can be seen as being a symptom of the disorder. Individuals with these eating disorders believe they are still in control. The individual who has an eating disorder is robbing their body of needed nutrients. The result of this deprivation over an extended time is devastating to the overall health of the individual. Over time, the individual may experience muscle loss, bone loss, hormonal imbalances, lowered body temperature, lowered blood pressure, fluid retention, neurological symptoms, anemia, diabetes, hair loss, heart arrhythmias, and possible cardiac arrest. Bulimics, who vomit as a way to purge themselves, may also experience loss of enamel on their teeth, esophageal tears, and gastric ruptures. If left untreated, eating disorders can lead to a complete physical shutdown of the body. Unfortunately, the other major cause of death in this population is due to suicide.
Help for this disorder is available in many places across the country. There are programs in large hospitals, psychiatric clinics, and many private therapists who are specifically trained to work with individuals with this disorder. The data suggests that a combination of cognitive/behavioral therapy programs with nutritional counseling and medications (anti-depressants) seem to be most beneficial. If one is seeking help for these disorders, they should call local mental health associations, local hospitals, or mental health clinics.