Eating disorders are characterized by a persistent disturbance of eating patterns that lead to poor physical or psychological health. The major eating disorders are pica, rumination disorder, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
Eating disorders happen as a result of severe disturbances in eating behavior, such as unhealthy reduction of food intake or extreme overeating. These feeding patterns can be caused by feelings of distress or concern about body shape or weight, and they harm normal body composition and function. A person with an eating disorder may have started out just eating smaller or larger amounts of food than usual, but at some point, the urge to eat less or more can spiral out of control.
Eating disorders are very complex, and despite scientific research to understand them, the biological, behavioral, and social underpinnings of these illnesses remain elusive. Eating disorders frequently develop during adolescence or early adulthood, but some reports indicate their onset can occur during childhood or later in adulthood. Many adolescents are able to hide these behaviors from their family for months or years.
Eating disorders are not due to a failure of will or behavior; rather, they are real, treatable medical illnesses in which certain maladaptive patterns of eating take on a life of their own. Eating disorders frequently occur together with other psychiatric illness such as depression, substance abuse, or anxiety disorders. In addition, people who suffer from eating disorders can experience a wide range of physical health complications, including serious heart conditions and kidney failure, which may lead to death. Recognition of eating disorders as real and treatable diseases is critically important.
Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by persistent restriction on food intake, an intense fear of gaining weight or of becoming fat, and a distortion of body weight or shape. An individual with anorexia nervosa will maintain a body weight that is below a minimally normal level for age, sex, and physical health.
Some people with anorexia lose weight by dieting, fasting, or exercising excessively; this is called the restricting type of anorexia. Others lose weight by self-induced vomiting or misusing laxatives, diuretics, or enemas. People who use these methods are considered to have the binge-eating/purging type of anorexia.
Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food (binge-eating), and feeling a lack of control over the eating. This is followed by some type of behavior that compensates for the binge, such as purging (vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics), fasting, and/or excessive exercise. Unlike individuals with anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal level.
Binge-Eating Disorder is characterized by recurrent binge-eating episodes during which a person feels a loss of control over his or her eating. An episode of binge-eating is defined as eating an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances. Unlike bulimia, binge-eating episodes are not followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting. As a result, people with binge-eating disorder are often overweight or obese. Community surveys have estimated that 1.6 percent of females and 0.8 percent of males experience binge-eating disorder in a twelve-month period.
Researchers are unsure of the underlying causes and nature of eating disorders.
Unlike a neurological disorder, which generally can be pinpointed to a specific lesion on the brain, an eating disorder likely involves abnormal activity distributed across neural systems. With
increased recognition that mental disorders are brain disorders, more researchers are using tools from both modern neuroscience and modern psychology to better understand eating disorders. Additionally, eating disorders appear to run in families so research on genetic factors continues.
Other factors—psychological, interpersonal, and social—can play a role in eating disorders. Psychological factors that can contribute to eating disorders include low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life, depression, anxiety, anger, or loneliness.
Interpersonal factors include troubled family and personal relationships, difficulty expressing emotions and feelings, a history of being teased or ridiculed based on size and weight, or a history of physical or sexual abuse.
Social factors that can contribute include cultural pressures that glorify thinness and place value on obtaining the “perfect” body, narrow societal definitions of beauty that include only women and men of specific body weights and shapes, or cultural norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance and not inner qualities and strengths.
People with anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight even though they are dangerously thin. In bulimia nervosa, despite their usually weighing within the normal range for their age and height, sufferers, like individuals with anorexia, may fear gaining weight, desire to lose weight, and feel intensely dissatisfied with their bodies. Many with binge-eating disorders are overweight for their age and height. Feelings of self-disgust and shame associated with this illness can lead to bingeing again, creating a cycle of binge-eating.
Eating disorders can be treated, and a healthy weight can be restored. The sooner these disorders are diagnosed and treated, the better the outcomes are likely to be. Because of their complexity, eating disorders require a comprehensive treatment plan involving medical care and monitoring, professional interventions, psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, and, when appropriate, medication management.
People with eating disorders often do not recognize or admit that they are ill. As a result, they may strongly resist getting and staying in treatment. Family members or other trusted individuals can be helpful in ensuring that the person with an eating disorder receives needed care and rehabilitation.
CONTACT an English Speaking Psychologist in MILAN – ITALY
Dr. Martina Larsen Payà +39 349 1696270