Eating Disorder – General Information

An eating disorder is a complex compulsion to eat, or not eat, in a way which disturbs physical and mental health. The eating may be excessive (compulsive over-eating); too limited (restricting); may include normal eating punctuated with episodes of purging; may include cycles of binging and purging; or may encompass the ingesting of non-foods. The most heard about eating disorders are Anorexia nervosa and Bulimia nervosa. The most widely and rapidly spreading eating disorder is compulsive overeating or Binge eating disorder. These are also the three most common eating disorders. All three have severe consequences to a person’s immediate and long-term health and can cause death. There are numerous theories as to the causes and mechanisms leading to eating disorders.

Eating disorders are characterized by an abnormal obsession with food and weight. Eating disorders are much more noticed in women than in men. This can be attributed to the fact that society is seen to put an emphasis on women to be thin, and men to be ‘bulked up’. This can lead to pressure on women to be ‘picture perfect’, and an eating disorder prevails as a result of stress of not being able to reach unattainable goals related to this ‘picture perfect’ ideal. Researchers who study eating-disordered thoughts and behaviors suggest that the media, women’s magazines in particular, may play a role in triggering these practices.

Anorexia Nervosa:

The American Psychiatric Association defines anorexia nervosa as the presence of an abnormally low body weight (15% below normal body weight for age and height), the intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, disturbance and preoccupation with body weight and shape, and amenorrhoea (the absence of three consecutive menstrual cycles). Anorexia can be life-threatening as victims commonly refuse to eat and drastically lose weight. Anorexics are commonly perfectionists, driven to succeed; yet they set unattainable standards of performance for themselves. When they fail to meet these standards, they look for a part of their lives they can control; food and weight become that “control” for them. Low self-esteem and constant self-criticism cause anorexics to constantly fear losing control, and even consuming a small amount of food could be considered a loss of control .One thousand women die of anorexia nervosa each year, and millions more suffer from the destructive physical compications .

Bulimia Nervosa:

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by the recurrent episodes of bingeing (eating large quantities of food over short periods of time) followed by attempts to compensate for the excessive caloric intake by such purging behaviors as self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, severe restrictive dieting or fasting, or excessive exercise .Bulimics often have “binge food,” which is the food they typically consume during binges (high-carb, high fat, foods). Some have described their binge episodes as a physical high they feel, numbing out, going into auto-pilot, losing all control, immediate comfort, etc. The reasoning or triggers behind a binge may serve different purposes for different people. This binge episode leads the individual to feel guilt, shame, embarrassment, and complete failure. Bulimics try to regain control of themselves and the situation by purging the food – making up for their mistake. This leads to feeling famished and empty again, and therefore, another uncontrollable binge, followed by feeling powerless, and the vicious binge/purge cycle continues. Bulimics have extreme eating and exercising habits, instead of demonstrating moderation. This compulsive behavior is often echoed in similar destructive behavior such as sexual promiscuity, pathological lying, and shoplifting. Some bulimics not only struggle with the eating disorder, but these other harmful behaviors as well.