Shah Nahian writes about the dangers of eating disorders
Meeting a seemingly normal person, he or she might not seem any different than all the Tom, Dick and Harriets you might know. However, cleverly hidden from sight, this person could be secretly suffering from an eating disorder.
Eating disorders frequently occur together with other psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse. As trivial as it may seem initially, a person suffering from an eating disorder can experience a wide range of physical health complications that include serious heart conditions and kidney failure – eventually leading to death.
Contradictory to the common belief, eating disorders are rarely about food or wanting to be thin. In reality, this is a form of illness rather than a character flaw. Although, researchers are unsure of the underlying causes and nature of the illness; factors that trigger eating disorders include genetic, psychological, biochemical, cultural and environmental factors. People suffering from eating disorders use food and unhealthy behaviours such as extreme dieting, starving, binging and purging to cope with unpleasant and overwhelming realities and emotions. It is vital to understand the illness recognise it as a real and treatable disease.
Know your enemy!
Eating disorders, more common in females than males, normally develop during adolescence or early adulthood. However, there have been recorded cases of the disorder occurring during childhood and later in adulthood.
The most common forms of eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge-Eating Disorder.
Anorexia Nervosa is characterised by relentless pursuit of weightloss and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight. People diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa suffer from distorted body images and intense fear of gaining weight. They are known to lose weight by dieting and exercising excessively, while some practice self-induced vomiting, misusing laxatives, diuretics or enemas. Anorexia Nervosa is known to coexist with psychiatric and physical illnesses that include depression, anxiety, obsessive behaviour, substance abuse, cardiovascular and neurological complications, and impaired physical development.
People suffering from Bulimia Nervosa are known to eat excessive amounts of food, often feeling a lack of control over the eating, followed by a type of behaviour that compensates for the binge-eating such as self-induced vomiting, starvation, excessive laxative or diuretic use.
Binge-Eating Disorder on the other hand is characterised by recurrent binge-eating episodes during which a person feels an inability to control their eating. Unlike bulimia, binge-eating episodes are not followed by purging, excessive exercise or fasting – which results in becoming overweight or obese.
A Cautionary Tale
Living in societies where a person’s level of attractiveness is confused with how skinny she might be, it is extremely easy to distort a healthy body image in the process. While excessive dieting and ways to rapidly lose weight are all encouraged in this day and age; eating disorders can very easily be the result of severe disturbances in eating behaviour, whether it’s an unhealthy reduction of food intake or extreme overeating.
A person with an eating disorder may have started out eating smaller or larger amounts of food than usual, but somewhere along the line, the urge to eat less or more spirals out of control.
Eating disorders are not a result of failure of will or behaviour. They are treatable medical conditions. People with such disorders often do not recognise or admit they are ill and are likely resist treatment. Family members and close friends can often be helpful in ensuring that the person receives the needed care and rehabilitation.
Due to the complexity of eating disorders, the key reasons for its underpinnings remain elusive. Researchers are using tools from modern neuroscience and psychology to better understand them. However, these disorders can be treated to restore the person’s weight back to normal. The sooner the person is diagnosed and begins treatment; the better the outcomes are likely to be. These illnesses require a comprehensive treatment plan that involves medical care and monitoring from a psychiatrist, nutritional counselling and medication management when necessary.