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Eating Disorders-Today's Wide-Spread Problem
Have you ever discussed your weight or maybe how much you need to lose with a friend or companion? When you did this, did you think about the kind of affect that kind of conversation can have on another person? Probably not, but the reality is that conversation about weight and / or losing weight can actually trigger people with eating disorders to behave in an inappropriate, unhealthy manner. An eating disorder is a medical condition that was first recognized in 1873 by the British physician, William Gull. The American Psychiatric Association categorizes eating disorders into one of four types; Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and eating disorder not otherwise specified. Each of these types of eating disorder is characterized by certain features that may or may not overlap with the others.
Anorexia nervosa is clinically defined as intentional weight loss of more than 15% a person’s normal body weight. Anorexics display an inordinate fear of gaining weight and/or becoming fat even when, typically, the anorexic is already extremely thin. The intake of food is often strictly limited and can be taken to the point where it is life threatening if not addressed. Often times, sufferers are unaware or in denial of how much weight they have lost and therefore are sometimes likely to resist treatment. Ages of onset range between 12 and 13 to 17 years old which can cause other problems for girls who are hitting a very important age of their lives at this point in time. According to Healthline, Anorexia nervosa can be broken up into two sub-categories; the restricting type, which achieves weight loss solely through restriction of food, and the binge eating/purging type in which the behavior associated with Anorexia nervosa is accompanied by recurrent episodes of binge eating. Binge eating is more commonly associated with Bulimia nervosa which is characterized and recognized by this unhealthy behavior.
Bulimia nervosa is, as stated before, characterized by repeated episodes of binge eating. These episodes are most often followed by compensatory behaviors such as purging to avoid weight gain. Other compensatory behaviors used include diuretic (a medicine used to reduce the amount of water in one’s body) and laxative abuse, fasting, or excessive exercise. Bulimia will typically develop during the late teen years and early twenties. Unlike Anorexics who are typically severely underweight, bulimics are more often than not at a normal body weight, although that weight is known to fluctuate often. Both Anorexics and bulimics struggle with issues such as body image and weight. In fact, these illnesses are known for the unusual concern about weight loss that comes with them.
Some physical symptoms a person with bulimia might see include; erosion of tooth enamel, swollen salivary glands, potassium depletion, bruised knuckles, and an irritated esophagus. These symptoms along with a three month, twice-a-week period of binge eating/purging episodes must be present in order for a person to qualify for a clinical diagnosis of Bulimia nervosa (Ansel).
Finally, a binge eating disorder is characterized by binge eating episodes which are not followed up with compensatory actions. Binge eating disorders typically appear in the late teen years or early twenties and affect between 15 and 50 percent of individuals participating in diet programs. A binge eating disorder often develops after substantial weight loss due to dieting. Perhaps the scariest part of this illness is that of those affected, 50% are male.
Clinical diagnosis of a binge eating disorder can be given when an individual has indulged in binge eating behavior recurrently (twice a week every week for the past six months) and when two or more symptoms including; eating at an unusually rapid pace, eating until uncomfortably full, eating large quantities of food in the absence of physical hunger, eating alone out of shame, and feelings of guilt, self-disgust, or depression after bingeing episodes are present. As with any eating disorder, a binge eating disorder also comes with an unusual amount of concern about weight. This concern can stem from a variety of things, some of which would seem unlikely.
Risk factors for eating disorders are numerous and range from family problems to physical, emotional, or even sexual abuse. Contrary to what is probably popular belief though, an eating disorder has absolutely nothing to do with a person’s weight! In fact, an eating disorder is actually a way to rid oneself of built up emotions which a person may feel they are otherwise unable to express. So, how does a person overcome these obstacles presented by eating disorders?
Treatment for an eating disorder, if effective, involves some sort of psychotherapy or psychological counseling coupled with careful attention to medical and nutritional needs. Treatment that focuses on these things as well as an individualized plan based on that person’s needs and issues is most likely to be long lasting (National Eating Disorders Association). For any eating disorder, the treatment should vary depending on an individual’s severity and particular problems, needs and strengths. If a treatment plan does not focus on these things, it is likely to have minimal and short-term effects. While in most cases, short-term effects will work, eating disorders require long-term effects if a patient is to recover fully. Fortunately, an individual struggling with an eating disorder can receive the proper treatment in a variety of ways.
Perhaps the most common of these ways is for the individual to begin seeing a psychologist who can help them sort through any underlying issues that might be prompting the issue, a psychiatrist who can monitor the medications of the individual, and a dietician who can help the individual begin to develop normal eating patterns again. These three specialists along with a doctor trained in dealing with eating disorders to keep tabs on an individual’s weight can all be seen while the individual is still at home. Therefore, this is most often the first method of treatment a person will seek. However, there are other methods should this original plan fail to have a lasting effect.
Individuals with eating disorders can also receive treatment in a hospital Eating Disorder Unit, Group Therapy Sessions which are also known as outpatient treatment, and even residential treatment centers, such as Fairwinds Treatment Center in Clearwater, FLA. Each of these treatment methods is characterized by the level of treatment and the severity of the cases seen in individuals attending. The most effective method to use when treating and eating disorder is to increase the level of treatment based on how severe an individual’s illness has become.
On a more positive note, there are also ways to prevent eating disorders and this is where peers, classmates, companions, and friends have a role. There are four primary methods that can be used to help prevent treatment including;
Avoiding thinking of eating disorders in simplistic terms. Eating disorders are serious and complex problems and it is important that everyone recognizes them as such.
Not only women and girls can get eating disorders. People in today’s society need to be aware that eating disorders are a problem for both genders and therefore mistreatment of women and girls because of difficulty with weight and body image should be eliminated.
Effective treatment is important. If eating disorder treatment focuses solely on the signs, symptoms, and dangers of eating disorders, treatment will quickly become ineffective. It is important that our culture address issues such as our obsession with being thin and/or slender, men’s and women’s roles in society, and the development of people’s self-esteem in schools, work areas, community service, and hobbies.
Prevention programs in schools and other community organizations should be coordinated. This will help to keep all generations, current and future informed on the topic of eating disorders.
If everyone in today’s society worked to address these issues, the risk lying behind eating disorders would be much less than it is currently. It is up to each and every individual in today’s society to step up and address these issues in order to help reduce the number of eating disorder cases seen throughout the nation and around the globe.
Ansel, Karen. "Eating Disorders Information." Healthline. 2004. Gale Cenage Learning, Web. 27 Oct 2009. <http://www.healthline.com/galecontent/eating-disorders-2>.
Levine, Micheal, and Margo Maine. "ED Info Text Pages." NEDA. 2009. National Eating Disorders Association, Web. 27 Oct 2009. <http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/>.