Eating disorders are more common than you may think, with 28.8 million Americans expected to have an eating disorder in their lifetime.
Unfortunately, most people tend to underestimate the severity of these disorders. In reality, eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness after opioid overdose, accounting for the death of 10,200 people each year.
But what exactly is an eating disorder? What causes them? What different types of eating disorders exist, and how can you counter them? Read on to learn more.
What Is an Eating Disorder?
An eating disorder is a type of severe mental condition that’s characterized by severe disturbances in a person’s eating behavior and related thoughts and emotions.
People with eating disorders typically have an unhealthy preoccupation with food and body shape, weight, and size. Eating disorders can have severe health consequences and sometimes cause death. That’s why it’s so important to seek treatment after an eating disorder diagnosis.
What Causes Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are caused by different factors. One of these is genetics, where these disorders seem to run in the family. Certain personality traits can also trigger eating disorders, such as perfectionism, neuroticism, and impulsivity.
In some cases, eating disorders are the result of perceived pressures to have a thin body. Media that promotes such ideals is an especially powerful force.
Experts also believe that chemical imbalances in the brain similar to the imbalances that trigger certain kinds of depression may also cause eating disorders. That explains why these disorders are common among people with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.
Regardless of the potential cause of your eating disorder, it’s always advisable to see an eating disorder therapist for help.
Here Are the Different Types of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders come in different forms. Here are the four of them.
Anorexia nervosa is arguably the most well-known of all eating disorders. The illness typically develops during adolescence and young adulthood. It’s more prevalent in men than women.
A person with anorexia nervosa views themselves as being overweight, even when they’re dangerously underweight. They monitor their weight constantly, severely restricting their calories and avoiding certain foods entirely.
The clearest symptom of anorexia nervosa is being considered to be significantly underweight, especially when compared with people of the same age and height. Eating patterns also tend to be very restricted, with the person constantly harboring an intense fear of gaining weight.
Anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate of all mental illnesses. It claims the lives of 20 percent of its victims. Seek professional help right away.
Bulimia nervosa is different from anorexia nervosa in that patients with bulimia tend to eat unusually large amounts of food frequently. Most people with this eating disorder get it during adolescence and young adulthood.
More women than men tend to get bulimia nervosa.
During binge eating episodes, the person feels that they can’t stop eating. Thus, a binge may continue until the person is painfully full.
A person may binge any food type, although most binges happen with foods the person would typically avoid. Once the person is full, they usually try to compensate for the calories they’ve taken by purging. Purging also helps relieve the discomfort they feel in their guts.
Purging behaviors vary, with fasting, vomiting, excessive exercise, laxatives, and diuretics being the most common.
Bulimia nervosa can be very harmful, triggering strokes and heart attacks in the event of electrolyte imbalance within the body. Seek eating disorder counseling right away.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is a type of illness where a person eats an excessive amount of food within a short period of time. Unlike in people with bulimia nervosa, no purging is involved.
For a diagnosis of binge eating disorder to be made, the binging behavior must occur at least once a week for more than three months. In America, this eating disorder is even more common than anorexia and bulimia.
One of the top symptoms of binge eating disorder is eating unusually large amounts of food rapidly and in secret. The person keeps eating until they’re uncomfortably full, despite not being hungry in the first place. They may also feel distressed and guilty when they think about their binging behavior.
Individuals who suffer from binge eating behavior may become obese or overweight. That increases the risk of such health complications as stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.
This eating disorder is characterized by the consumption of things that aren’t normally considered food. People with pica experience a craving for such non-food items as chalk, soil, ice, paper, soap, pebbles, cloth, and so on.
While anybody can get pica, the eating disorder is more common in children, expectant women, and people with mental disabilities.
Pica increases the risk of infections, poisoning, nutritional deficiencies, and gut injuries. Pica can lead to death, depending on the substances the person ingests.
Note that it’s not considered pica if the non-food substance you ingest is a normal part of your culture or religion. A socially acceptable practice by your peers may also not be considered pica.
Take Appropriate Action Against Eating Disorders
While there are different types of eating disorders, all of them are harmful to you and should never go ignored. As you’ve seen, an eating disorder can prove fatal if left untreated. Once a formal diagnosis has been made, seek expert help right away.
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