First of all, it is important to understand who develops unhealthy eating habits and what the reason for such behavior is. As it was estimated by National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, “up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S.” In addition, Goodheart, Clopton, and Robert-McComb provide the information that “between 3 % and 4% of children and adolescents struggle from eating disorders and nearly 3% of adolescents die from eating disorders” (33). Thus, as we can see, not only adolescents suffer from these illnesses, but also children. Talking about gender, despite the opinion that women are usually the ones who develop abnormal eating habits, men also tend to suffer from eating disorders.
The most widespread factors leading people to these illnesses are generally of psychological nature and only some of them are biological. NEDA claims that in order to overcome the disease, the roots of it need be found in the person’s psychological state, his or her relations with those around one, in person’s social life and passions and finally the reason for disease may be on biological level. They state that psychological factors contributing to eating disorders are “low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life, depression, anxiety, anger, stress or loneliness”. Meanwhile, there are interpersonal factors which probably are mostly experienced by adolescents. Some of them are troubled personal relationships, difficulties in expressing emotions and feelings, being teased or ridiculed because of size or weight as well as being physically abused. Social factors express themselves in fashion, perfectionism in seeking for the “perfect body”, narrow definitions of beauty, cultural norms that pay attention only to person’s appearance, but on his or her inner strengths and abilities. One more cultural aspect, according to NEDA, is “stress related to racial, ethnic, size/weight-related or other forms of discrimination or prejudice”. Finally, biologically, eating disorders may appear because of genes, as Mayo Clinic states. People whose siblings or parents suffer from eating disorders may develop this illness too.
Perhaps, the most well-known and, for some people, even “fashionable”, eating disorder is anorexia nervosa. According to Crisp, the English language references to this illness can be traced back to the seventeenth century (3). Later, about a hundred years ago, it was described in great details by physicians. Nowadays, this illness is mostly “westernized”, in other words, skinny models, their lifestyle and appearance affect the youth and their perception of beauty causing them to suffer. NEDA specialists say that anorexia nervosa typically appears in early to mid-adolescence. Hall and Ostroff define anorexia as self-starvation and refer to the Greek roots of the word which is “loss of appetite”. Although they also state that “loss of appetite” is a misleading phrase, since anorectics usually overcome hunger (17). Smith claims that anorexia nervosa may affect all of the person’s body functions since he or she loses about 15% of the total weight (12). This disease may often be characterized by exhaustion, persistent desire to being skinny and unwillingness to maintain normal weight. Being mostly a psychological disease (as it can be understood from the very name “nervosa”), people who suffer from anorexia are always too much afraid of gaining weight, girls and women often have irregular menstrual cycle. Some girl’s horrible experience of being sick was quoted in Smith’s book: “At my worst I fainted nearly every day. The anorexia stopped my period for two years. I was taking laxatives regularly because I was constipated. But I used them so much I couldn’t control my bowel movements at all” (13). Anorexia nervosa is quite a dangerous disease, since it affects the whole body. Hall and Ostroff describe the health problems to which anorectics are exposed. Cardiac problems are very widespread among anorectics resulting in heart rhythm’s abnormality as well as in reduction of heart’s size. In addition, such people suffer from gastrointestinal disorders (31). Other consequences are low blood pressure, high risk for heart failure, reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), muscle loss and weakness, kidney failure. Fainting, fatigue, overall weakness, dry hair and skin, according to NEDA, are also common features of anorexia. Unfortunately, mortality rates are high, since it is estimated that “between 5-20% of individuals struggling with anorexia nervosa will die” (NEDA). In order to recover, anorectics need to be closely observed by nutritionists as well as psychologists.
Bulimia nervosa is one more dangerous eating disorder. Hall and Cohn describe it as “an obsession with food and weight characterized by repeated overeating binges followed by compensatory behavior, such as self-induced vomiting or excessive exercise” (25). In addition, bulimics tend to overuse laxatives or diuretics. In contrast to anorectics, bulimics are not underweight, their weight is usually normal in relation to their age and height. However, similarly to anorectics they are afraid of gaining weight, desire to lose some kilos and are dissatisfied with their body. Psychological disorders, such as depression and anxiety or psychoactive substances misuse, are also common among bulimics. Graves claims that bulimia nervosa may be fatal in some cases and result in heart attack. However, in any way the person experiences many health problems such as dry hair and skin, loss of hair, energy rate decline. Bulimia has a serious impact on person’s mental health, for example, the ability to think logically (39). On the social level, bulimics think that they are isolated and lonely. They usually hide their behavior because they are ashamed of it, which is why scientists find difficulty in estimating the number of people who have bulimia. However, it is estimated that about 80% of bulimics are women (NEDA). Nevertheless, bulimia is treatable, as Grave states, and although recovery is long and problematic (42), it is worth it.
Finally, the third eating disorder is binge eating disorder. An important note is that while anorexia and bulimia may occur together, binge eating disorder never goes together with anorexia or bulimia. According to American Psychiatric Association, “binge eating disorder involves frequent overeating during a discreet period of time (at least once a week for three months), combined with lack of control”. They also associate this disease with eating more rapidly than normal or until feeling uncomfortably full. Some eat large amount of food even if they are not hungry. In contrast to anorectics and bulimics, after excessive food intake, people who suffer from binge eating disorder do not try to vomit, fast or exercise. As a result, such people often have excess weight or suffer from clinical obesity. NEDA continues to list the potential health risks of binge eating disorder and claims that some of them are: high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, heart disease, diabetes mellitus and other problems. On psychological level, American Psychiatric Association states, people suffering from binge eating disorder often feel “disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward”. In addition, anxiety, depression and personality disorders may also turn out. What is interesting, in case with this illness gender almost has no importance, since it was estimated by NEDA that 60% of women and 40% of men are struggling with this disorder, which is almost equal.
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apa.org. Eating Disorders. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
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Goodheart Kristin, James R. Clopton, and Jacalyn J. Robert-McComb. Eating Disorders in Women and Children: Prevention, Stress Management, and Treatment. 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
Graves, Bonnie. Bulimia. 2000. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
Hall, Lindsey and Leigh Cohn. Bulimia: A Guide to Recovery. 2013. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
Hall, Lindsey and Monika Ostroff. Anorexia Nervosa: A Guide to Recovery. 2013. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
mayoclinic.org. Eating disorders. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
nationaleatingdisorders.org. Types & Symptoms of Eating Disorders. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
Smith, Erica. Anorexia Nervosa: When Food is the Enemy. 1999. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.