To Eat or Not to Eat: A Primer on Eating Disorders

girl eating a single pea using fork

Demi Lovato, Paula Abdul, Lady Gaga—these are names associated with being superstars, great singers, and performers who have topped the musical charts at some point in their lives. But there’s one thing they share in common: they suffer from an eating disorder.

Perhaps one name—equally as famous and talented as a musical artist you might recognize—is Karen Carpenter. She has a very beautiful voice whose music still haunts our airwaves. Karen, however, was not as lucky. In 1983, while still at the height of her musical career, she passed away from heart failure allegedly because of the by complications related to her eating disorder.

But what is an eating disorder? Is there a treatment for it? An experienced provider of eating disorder treatment in Westport, Connecticut shares some pieces of information about this condition.

What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is an illness that severely affects a person’s behavior towards food, which ultimately affects their health. Sometimes, this could be fatal, as in the case of Karen Carpenter. It could be revulsion towards food, bingeing, or an excessive or uncontrolled intake of food.

Who are vulnerable?

Eating disorders affect all types of people of any age or gender, race, or socioeconomic group. There’s no clear indication as well when it would rear its ugly head—during the teenage years, later in life, or sometimes even during early childhood. In America, surveys say that approximately 10 million men and 20 million women will suffer from an eating disorder at one point in their lives. Somehow, women are more prone to this illness than men.

Causes of eating disorders

sad girl trying to eat pastaExperts cannot say for sure what really causes eating disorders, but researchers agree that it is an unhealthy combination of biological, behavioral, psychological, sociological, and social factors. Coupled with other conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression, or substance abuse (alcohol and illegal drugs), and you have a potential disaster waiting to happen.

The top three eating disorders

While there are a number of disorders identified, the most common are:

1. Anorexia nervosa

People suffering from anorexia nervosa misperceive themselves as overweight; hence, they deliberately reduce their food intake. The reason this is number one on the list is it is a proven killer. If the victim does not immediately succumb to the complications brought about by this mental illness, they may opt to take their own lives, especially women sufferers.

How do you spot an anorexic person? They restrict their food intake severely even if they are emaciated. They are obsessed with weight loss, often trying different methods and even resorting to the medically unsupervised intake of weight loss medication. They are in denial of the severity of their extremely low body weight, a distorted body image.

2. Bulimia Nervosa

Sufferers would binge eat, then feel very guilty that they would force themselves to vomit the food they ate, or they would engage in strenuous physical activities (hitting the gym or running for several hours), and sometimes even take vomit-inducing medicine or laxatives.

Again, victims of this eating disorder fear weight gain and are unhappy with how they look physically. Their unhealthy attempts of self-induced vomiting are secretly done, which in turn, makes them feel guilty and ashamed of themselves for their lack of control. Trying to induce vomiting without a valid medical need can cause gastrointestinal problems and severe dehydration.

3. Binge-eating disorder

People with this condition eat a lot. Because of this, sufferers are commonly overweight or obese, and this is the most common disorder in the U.S., with sufferers not clearly sure why they are overweight and often attributing their condition to genetics.

Symptoms of binge eating include eating excessive amounts of food at every meal, frequent eating even when not hungry, eating extremely fast, and eating all the food they’ve been served. They often eat alone so as not to be embarrassed.

Fortunately, eating disorder treatment is available. To address the condition, the professionals will implement a combination of treatment and therapies. Patients are advised of adjustments to be made with their nutrition and lifestyle. To address their mental health, psychotherapy may also be prescribed. In some cases, medication may also be given.