Eating Disorders

DEC 26, 2020

Eating disorders are behavioural syndromes that involve a disturbed pattern of eating. They are mental disorders that require immediate and specialised professional help.

The two main types of eating disorders are called Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Both of these disorders are characterised by a specific set of symptoms that must not be confused with normal variations in eating patterns.

Anorexia Nervosa is a disorder that is mostly prevalent in young adolescent girls, however, it may also manifest in young boys, prepubescent children, young men and older women as well. It’s defining feature is self-induced or self-sustained weight loss. Prepubescent children with anorexia may never gain the weight that they are expected to gain during their growth spurt. In adolescents and older people, the body weight is almost fifteen percent less than what is normally expected. This weight loss is self induced through a severe avoidance of what is considered as fattening food. People suffering from anorexia may also engage in abnormally high levels of exercise, self-induced vomiting or purging, use of appetite suppressants or laxatives and the like.

The exact causes of anorexia are unknown, however, a growing body of research indicates that a confluence of sociocultural and biological factors are usually at play. There exists a distortion in one’s body image, and a pathologically intrusive dread of fatness which distorts one’s ideas of what their normal weight should be. People with anorexia may also be highly critical of their bodies which pushes them to follow their extreme dietary regimen more strongly.

The significant weight loss often results in physiological problems such as an irregular menstrual cycle in females and loss of sexual potency in males. It may also cause a hormonal imbalance such as high levels of cortisol (stress hormone), abnormal insulin secretion, and the like.

Anorexia sometimes manifests in its atypical form wherein one or more of the key symptoms of anorexia are absent.

The other common eating disorder, Bulimia Nervosa, is characterised by episodes of overheating that are followed by attempts to reverse its effects through vomiting. People suffering from bulimia tend to experience irresistible cravings for food, which leads to consuming a large amount of food in a very small amount of time. This is almost immediately followed by a period of starvation, self induced vomiting, ingesting appetite suppressants, laxatives or anything that is perceived to help reverse the effects of overeating.

The causes and prevalence patterns of bulimia are similar to anorexia. It involves a morbid fear of fatness which leads to the person establishing a weight threshold that is well below what is considered normal. It also tends to have secondary symptoms such as thickening of the skin around the knuckles - due to being used for self-induced vomiting constantly, and damaged teeth Bulimia may manifest independently, but it is often preceded by anorexia. In some cases, bulimia is followed by anorexia.

As with anorexia, bulimia may also manifest in its atypical form wherein one or more of the key symptoms are absent.

Other eating disorders include binge-eating disorder - which includes abnormal patterns of overeating, pica (mostly found in children) - wherein one invests non-edible items, rumination syndrome - which involves purging of food, and Avoidant or Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (AFRID) - wherein one experiences an abnormally low appetite.

Eating disorders often tend to co-occur with other mental health problems such as depression, substance use disorders and anxiety. It also. Arrives a significantly high risk of self harm and suicide.

Described above are the few main types of eating disorders. However, it is essential to note that eating disorders must not be self-diagnosed. If you, or anyone you know, is exhibiting symptoms of any of these disorders, please contact a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist immediately.