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What are Eating Disorders? - Diagnosis, Symptoms and Treatments
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Eating Disorders

What are Eating Disorders?

An eating disorder is a condition that wholly consumes a person’s focus to the point that they can focus little else. The main eating disorders are: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Eating disorders usually occur among women and start in the early teenage years. It can occur along with other illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders and drug abuse.

Anorexia nervosa is an obsession with food, being thin, and can lead to starvation. Bulimia nervosa is having episodes of binging (eating large amounts of food), and then purging oneself by vomiting or excessive exercise. Binge-eating disorder is regularly eating excessive amounts of food, eating when you’re not hungry; when full, the person will try to diet and then binge again in a cycle.

Symptoms of Eating Disorders

The symptoms of eating disorders are as follow for Anorexia nervosa:

  • Refusing to eat
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Denying hunger
  • Excessive exercise
  • Negative self-image
  • Preoccupation with food
  • Thin appearance
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Social withdrawal
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Abdominal pain
  • Frequently being cold
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Dry skin

The symptoms for Bulimia are:

  • Eating beyond the point of fullness
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Laxative use
  • Going to bathroom after eating or during meals
  • Abnormal bowel functioning
  • Swollen salivary glands in the cheeks
  • Constant dieting or fasting
  • Feeling uncontrollable eating habits
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Damage teeth or gums
  • Sores in mouth and throat
  • Dehydration
  • Irregular heartbeat

Binge-eating disorder symptoms are:

  • Eating to the point of discomfort
  • Eating more food than normal
  • Eating food faster than normal
  • Eating alone
  • Feeling depress or upset after eating
  • Feelings that eating habits are not within your control.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

There are no set reasons for eating disorders, although some reasons have been traced to psychological and emotional problems dealing with issues of low self-esteem, perfectionism, family conflicts, relationship issues, impulsive behavior, and even anger management issues.

There are also biological factors to be considered such as genes that make individuals more vulnerable to developing eating disorders.

Those with family members who have also suffered from eating disorders might be more susceptible; along with chemical imbalances such as serotonin, which is a natural occurring brain chemical that may influence eating behavior.

Society is a major factor reinforcer in the western world that is preoccupied with thinness as a standard of beauty, as being desirable. This is reinforced in the media and through peer pressure, especially with young girls who have been indoctrinated in a society that values being popular.

Diagnosis of Eating Disorders

Being diagnosed with an eating disorder requires a person to meet the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Though some might not meet all the criteria for an eating disorder they still might have an eating disorder. The tests and diagnosis that are used are:

  • Physical evaluations and psychological evaluations.
  • Physical evaluations include: a physical exam that checks things such as height weight, and body mass index, vital signs, blood pressure, heart rate, dry skin, and a thorough examination of the abdomen.
  • Lab tests that will be performed including blood count, test to check electrolytes and proteins, kidney and thyroid functions, and urinalysis.
  • Other test might be given to rule out the symptoms that patient is experiencing to make sure the diagnosis isn’t a result of another illness. The psychological evaluations are used to determine a patient’s mental health. A doctor will ask questions that deal with patients’ beliefs and behavior such as past eating history, and their perceived self-image.

Treatment of Eating Disorders

The best treatment for eating disorders is a tailored treatment plan that includes psychotherapy or psychological counseling along with medical and nutritional needs. With psychotherapy, there are different forms of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy; family based therapy is helpful for children and adolescents and helps the factors contributing to the disorder to be effectively addressed as well as can be used to solve family conflict.

Other options for treatment are nutrition education along with weight restoration. This treatment gets a patient back to a healthy weight whether overly thin or obese, along with giving the patient an understanding of a healthy diet and help create a eating plan that helps to not only achieve a healthy weight but maintain that weight.

Some who suffer with eating disorders might have to be hospitalized especially those who suffer from anorexia and refuse to eat. Some suffering from eating disorders will be given medication to control the urges that leads to binges and purges. Other medication may be given to fight other illnesses that are a direct cause of the eating disorder such as depression and anxiety.

How to Prevent Eating Disorders

There is no real way to stop an eating disorder from developing, but the best ways to prevent it would be creating a healthy body image in children, encouraging healthy eating habits in a family, and maintaining a watch on media such as television, internet/social networking that support and promote anorexia as a lifestyle choice.