Eating Disorders: The Need for Emotional Nourishment
Our society places enormous amounts of pressure on women and men alike to look a certain way. For some individuals, the fixation on dieting and achieving the perfect body can lead to dangerously disordered eating.
As many as 24 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). Eating disorders are often both physically and psychologically damaging.
The major disorders include the following:
Anorexia nervosa. Characterized by extreme restriction of food such that the individual reaches a dangerously low weight. People suffering from anorexia often have an intense fear of food and calories. Negative health effects can include severe malnutrition, weakened bones and/or osteoporosis, anemia, hair loss, hormonal disruption and (for women) cessation of menstruation. Anorexia can also be deadly. Somewhere between 5 percent and 20 percent of people diagnosed with anorexia nervosa will die as a result of their condition, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
Bulimia nervosa. Characterized by periods of uncontrolled eating known as "binge eating," followed by compensatory behaviors such as vomiting, excessive exercise or extreme dieting after the binge. Bulimics who vomit can suffer from severe dehydration, tooth enamel erosion, and inflammation of the mouth and throat. Like anorexia nervosa, bulimia can be deadly when taken to extremes.
Binge eating disorder. As with bulimia nervosa, people with this disorder eat large quantities of food in one sitting, typically in order to soothe negative feelings such as anxiety or anger. However, unlike bulimics and anorexics, people afflicted with binge eating disorder are often overweight and have increased risk of associated health complications, such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, sleep apnea and joint pain.
Diagnosis of a specific eating disorder can be somewhat difficult. The symptoms of each type of disorder can blend into one another. As a result, physicians also have created a classification of eating disorder known as "eating disorder not otherwise specified," or EDNOS. Patients may be diagnosed with this disorder if their symptoms do not fit into just one category.
At the root of almost all eating disorders is a need for emotional nourishment and support. If you suspect that you or someone you care about has an eating disorder, educate yourself so you can reach out to the right people and seek effective help.
The following organizations offer information on the different eating disorders and resources for finding help:
- National Eating Disorders Association
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
"Eating Disorders Statistics," anad.org, The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/
"100 Million Dieters, $20 Billion: The Weight-Loss Industry by the Numbers," abcnews.go.com, 8 May 2012, ABC News Staff,
"Types and Symptoms of Eating Disorders," nationaleatingdisorders.org, National Eating Disorders Association, http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/general-information