The term “eating disorder” refers to a wide category of mental health conditions that involve disturbances to eating behaviors and any related thoughts or emotions. Eating disorders are some of most serious mental health disorders, because they can lead to a number of life-threatening physical health issues. They are also some of most difficult disorders to treat; because the abnormal behaviors produce a desired result (e.g., food restriction leading to thinness), people with eating disorders often do not think they have a problem.
The dangerous nature of eating disorders, along with the lack of insight that many patients have, means they usually require an aggressive clinical intervention and long-term care. A good eating disorder treatment plan should help the sufferer gain insight about their condition, and help them combat disordered eating behaviors and thought patterns through behavioral therapies and supportive clinical care.
There are a number of eating disorders, and many fall on a spectrum of severity. Behaviors like restricting food intake are often a way for individuals to exert control over one aspect of their lives, when they feel like the rest of their lives are out of control. There is a strong correlation with disordered eating patterns and other mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, conditions that rob people of control.
The three eating disorders most requiring treatment are anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder.
Anorexia is a very serious condition, and has the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder. This is due in part to the physical damage caused by lack of food and malnutrition, as well as a higher risk of suicide. Individuals with anorexia nervosa typically view themselves as overweight, even when they opposite the true. In order to lose the perceived weight, they take extreme measures, such as starving themselves or exercising excessively. Some of the other signs of anorexia include:
Left untreated, anorexia can lead to a number of serious medical complications. These include: anemia, osteoporosis, gastrointestinal issues, low blood pressure, heart damage, brain damage, and even multi-organ failure, which can sometimes be deadly.
Bulimia nervosa is recognizable by the cycle of binging and purging that people with disorder exhibit. Like with anorexia, individuals with bulimia have their self-esteem inordinately tied to their weight and physical appearance. People with bulimia nervosa have frequent episodes of consuming excessive amounts of food, or binging. During or immediately after binging, people with bulimia a loss of control. They then engage in some form of compensatory behavior, referred to as purging. Purging can take the form of fasting, force vomiting, the unnecessary use of laxatives, excessive exercising, a combination of these coping mechanisms.
Like most eating disorders, bulimia nervosa can lead to malnourishment and a host of health problems. Some of these include:
It is important to understand that eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia can affect anyone, regardless or age, gender, or ethnicity. It is also important to note that people who struggle with an eating disorder often have other mental health issues, like depression, anxiety, or trauma. Eating disorder treatment requires consistent medical monitoring to ensure improvement in health. In addition, behavioral therapies such as CBT and DBT have shown to be effective in treating eating disorders.
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