Eating disorders, to those who have never been impacted by one, may seem trivial. It’s about losing weight and wanting to look better, right? The truth is that eating disorders are devastating mental disorders. In fact, anorexia nervosa causes more fatalities than any other psychiatric disorder.
An eating disorder is a psychiatric condition in which the patient has extreme and negative emotions and attitudes tied to food and weight. Eating disorders include symptoms that are psychological, emotional and physical. There are four recognized eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and eating disorder not otherwise specified. Someone with anorexia nervosa attempts to lose weight and exert control over his or her mind and body by extreme calorie restriction. Bulimia nervosa, on the other hand, is characterized by binging on food and then extreme feelings of guilt and shame that lead to a purge; purging can take several forms including vomiting, using laxatives, excessive exercise or periods of calorie restriction.
Binge eating disorder and eating disorder not otherwise specified have been recognized more recently. Binge eating disorder occurs when someone eats excessively, but does not purge as a bulimic does. Binge eaters tend to be overweight or obese. Someone who experiences some of the symptoms of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating, but not enough for a diagnosis are considered to have an eating disorder not otherwise specified. Each of the eating disorder types can lead to severe health consequences and even death if left untreated.
How Are Eating Disorders Treated?
Treatment for an eating disorder should be tailored to each patient, but typically includes contributions from a physician, a nutritionist and a psychiatrist or therapist. The physician treats the physical consequences of eating disorders. A nutritionist can help a patient learn how to eat well for health and weight maintenance. A psychiatrist can counsel a patient to treat the emotional and psychological aspects of the disease and prescribe medications if necessary. In extreme cases of eating disorders, care may need to be provided in a residential facility. The treatment needed to help extreme cases is intense and conducted over the long term.
Recovery Saves Lives
Eating disorders are deadly diseases and treatment and recovery must be taken seriously. When a person restricts calories, purges, exercises too much or eats far too much in one sitting, he or she causes serious damage to his or her psyche and physical body. Unfortunately, only one-third of people struggling with anorexia actually seek help. For the best chance of overcoming an eating disorder, treatment should be sought early, although treatment at any time can help.
One of the main reasons a person fails to get help for an eating disorder is embarrassment. The shame and guilt tied up in an eating disorder can be overwhelming. If you are struggling with one, know that you are not alone and that you can get real help. And, if you know someone who may be developing an eating disorder, reach out. You could be saving a life.