An eating disorder is characterized by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of an individual’s physical and emotional health. Eating and diet disorders can occur in women and affect all socioeconomic levels, races and age groups. These disorders are complex conditions that arise from a combination of long-standing behavioral, biological, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and social factors. While scientists and researchers are still learning about their underlying causes.
It is generally believed that people with eating disorders often use food and the control of food in an attempt to compensate for feelings and emotions that may otherwise seem over-whelming. For some, dieting, bingeing, and purging may begin as a way to cope with painful emotions and to feel in control of one’s life, but ultimately, such behavior damages a person’s physical and emotional health, self-esteem, and sense of competence and control.
Some of the symptoms and early warning signs of eating disorders are an impulsive focus on healthy food and nutrition, a sudden interest in reading food labels to check fat grams and calories, avoiding fat and becoming increasingly picky about what to eat, starting diets to lose weight or become “healthier”, an unexpected choice to be a vegetarian, refusing to eat dessert, skipping meals (most often breakfast), lying about the foods (which, when and how much) they have eaten, worrying about their weight and being dissatisfied with how they look, drinking excessive amounts of water or liquid that have no calories (in order to feel full).
There are several types of eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa, often called just anorexia is an eating disorder determined by low body weight and body image distortion. There is a lack of appetite due to an obsessive fear of gaining weight. Similarly Bulimia nervosa or bulimia is a type of eating disorder in which a person eats a lot of food in a short amount of time. A binge eating disorder is characterized primarily by periods of uncontrolled, impulsive, or continuous eating beyond the point of feeling comfortably full. Compulsive overeating is the excessive consumption of food (bingeing), often thousands of calories at a time.
Night eating syndrome is characterized by a lack of appetite in the morning and overeating at night with agitation and insomnia. Orthorexia nervosa is one of a little-known group of eating disorders that refers to a fixation on eating proper food. Rumination syndrome is characterized by the repeated painless regurgitation of food following a meal which is then re-chewed, re-swallowed or discarded. That’s not all. If a person is struggling with eating disorder thoughts, feelings or behaviors, but does not have all the symptoms of anorexia or bulimia, that person may be diagnosed with Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS).
Of these, binge eating disorder is probably the most common eating disorder. Most people with this problem are either overweight or obese, but people with normal-weight can also have the disorder.
People with this disorder might also lose and gain back weight more often. Some of the symptoms and warning signs of binge eating disorder are: being usually on a dieting roller coaster or chronically dieting; episodes of out of control eating when the person wants to stop but cannot; stealing food from grocery stores or emptying the household cupboards; eating in secret to avoid the shame of not being able to stop; eating even when not hungry; emotional eating when angry, upset, frustrated, overwhelmed or sad; eating rapidly without tasting or experiencing the food; after eating, feeling overly stuffed instead of comfortably full; and above all, not knowing when to stop eating, abo not being able to stop eating.
It is not uncommon to overeat from time to time, and some of us often feel we have eaten more than we should have. In fact, eating a lot of food does not necessarily mean that a person has binge eating disorder. What really distinguishes most people with serious binge eating problems is often they eat an unusually large amount of food and feel their eating is out of control.
They also feel disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating. Studies suggest that people with binge eating may have trouble handling some of their emotions. Many people who are binge eaters say that being angry, sad, bored, worried, or stressed can cause them to binge eat.
Certain behaviors and emotional problems are more common in people with binge eating disorder. These include abusing alcohol, acting quickly without thinking i.e. impulsive behavior, not feeling in charge of themselves, not feeling a part of their communities, and not noticing and talking about their feelings. Studies have found that as many as half of all people with binge eating disorder are depressed or have been depressed in the past. Whether depression causes binge eating disorder or whether binge eating disorder causes depression is not known. It is also not known if dieting and binge eating are related.
Research has shown that people with binge eating disorder report more health problems, stress, trouble sleeping, and suicidal thoughts than people without an eating disorder do. Such people often feel bad about themselves and may miss work, school, or social activities to binge eat. Binge eating leads to weight gain and obesity, putting them at risk for many health problems, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels, gallbladder disease, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
People with binge eating disorder should take help from a health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker. There are several different ways to treat binge eating disorder. Treatment varies according to type and severity of eating disorder. Usually more than one treatment option is utilized. Some of the treatment methods are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). family therapy, behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), art therapy, nutrition counseling, medical nutrition therapy, medication, guided self help, and psychoanalysis.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches people how to keep track of their eating and change their unhealthy eating habits. It teaches them how to change the way they act in tough situations. It also helps them feel better about their body shape and weight. While interpersonal psychotherapy helps people look at their relationships with friends and family and make changes in problem areas, drug therapy, such as antidepressants, may be helpful for some people. With increasing knowledge as to the causes of individual eating disorders and which treatment options prove to be the most efficacious, the remission rates and ultimately full recovery rates will rise.