Eating Disorders When Food Becomes An Enemy

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Eat to live don t live to eat (or not to). This is very hard for a person with an eating disorder to understand since food is their tool for handling the stress and anxiety in their lives. Eating disorders affect millions of Americans each year (Eating Disorders 1). The most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Compulsive Overeating. These disorders are serious, and, when taken to extremes, can be life threatening as well. All eating disorders arise from a combination of long-standing psychological, interpersonal, and social conditions (Gurze 24). Several other factors such as family and personal problems, a low self-esteem, and the desire for the ideal body may also contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Eating disorders have reached epidemic levels. Over seven million women and one million men, children and adolescents have an eating disorder. Eighty-six percent report onset of illness by age 20, and seventy-seven percent report duration of illness from one to fifteen years. Only fifty percent report being cured. The cost of treating an eating disorder is often extremely expensive with the potential to extend over $100,000 (Ratner 17). Once an eating disorder has begun, it becomes a long-term (sometimes lifetime-long) cycle of dieting, bingeing and purging, or excessive eating. A person with an eating disorder becomes trapped in this endless cycle and needs professional physiological and psychological help to break through the chains. Eating disorders, just as any other addiction, are a reaction to a low self- esteem and a negative means of coping with life and stress. Others may use alcohol, drugs, and even compulsive gambling as a way to cope with their problems. To someone with an eating disorder, their illness is a means of incorporating control into their lives. Anorexia Nervosa, a disorder of self- starvation, manifests itself in a complete refusal of food and can cause psychological, endocrine, and gynecological problems. An anorexic person will turn to obsessive dieting and starvation as a way to control not only their weight, but also their feelings and actions regarding the emotions attached (Definition of Anorexia Nervosa 1). Some physiological characteristics of Anorexia Nervosa include low body weight, slowed heart rate, reduction in body temperature, a lowered resistance to infection, growth of body hair (lanugo), muscular weakness, and dizziness. Behaviorally, they may frequently weigh themselves, have insomnia, exercise compulsively, layer their clothing, and show increased tension at mealtimes. They may show signs of depression, perfectionism, and irritability. They usually tend to have difficulty thinking clearly, a low sense of worth, a distorted body image, a decreased interest in sex, and an intense fear of becoming fat (Ratner 6). Anorexia may begin with a normal person who diets intending only to lose just a few pounds . Dieting then becomes an obsession as they develop a distorted body image and feel larger than they really are. Soon, 5 to 10 pounds is not enough and they slowly begin to avoid food either by denying hunger or claiming to be stuffed after a few small bites. Extreme weight loss is not the only result of this refusal of food. A person with Anorexia can expect a loss of head hair, growth of fine body hair, constipation, intolerance of cold temperatures, and low pulse rate. Also, certain endocrine functions become impaired causing a cessation of menstruation in women, and, in men, an interruption of normal reproductive system processes. Anorexia can also lead to death, which claims about 10-15 percent of Anorexic patients (Eating Disorders: Anorexia Nervosa 1). Treatment of Anorexia consists of nutritional therapy, individual psychotherapy, family counseling, and, in extreme cases, hospitalization. It focuses on getting the patient to gain the weight they have lost and to make them feel comfortable about eating again. Improvement usually occurs rapidly; however, a permanent cure has yet to be discovered. Bulimia Nervosa is a related form of Anorexia Nervosa. Patients with this disease are trapped in a cycle of bingeing and purging. Bulimics will eat a large quantity of food in a relatively short amount of time and then use behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or abusing laxatives in order to punish themselves for something they feel they should unrealistically blame themselves for (Definition of Bulimia Nervosa 1). This can be in direct relation to how they feel about themselves or how they feel about a particular event or series of events in their lives. Episodes of bingeing and purging are also used to avoid and let out feelings of anger, depression, stress, and anxiety. Unlike Anorexic patients, Bulimics are usually aware that they have an eating disorder. In fascination of food, they will sometimes buy magazines or cook books to read recipes, and enjoy discussing dieting issues. The physical effects of the disease are eminent. A person with bulimia is likely to experience weight fluctuations, menstrual irregularities, swollen glands, tooth decay, damage to the esophagus, headaches and fatigue, and a chemical imbalance in the blood. Behavioral signs of bulimia include self-induced vomiting, shoplifting and/or stealing money to buy binge food, secretive food foraging and hoarding, and other obsessive-compulsive behaviors. All of these can be warning signs that someone is suffering with Bulimia (Ratner 7). What makes a person Bulimic is the cycle of bingeing and purging. Purging may be self- induced vomiting or the abusive of laxatives, but there are non- purging Bulimics who use other inappropriate compensatory behaviors such as compulsive exercise (excessive jogging or aerobics) to attempt to burn off the calories of a binge, or fasting the day after a binge. Other Bulimics take diet pills to avoid bingeing, or use diuretics to try to lose weight. Bulimia is very hard to overcome, particularly because it usually has been a pattern of behavior for a long time. Bulimia is usually treated by a team of four different doctors. A medical doctor, dentist, psychotherapist, and nutritionist make up this team . Each member of this team is relevant and necessary for adequate treatment and healing. A person with an eating disorder must want to get better in order for any medical and psychological treatment to work. Compulsive Overeating is an eating disorder that is characterized by periods of compulsive gorging or continuous eating (Gurze 24). The only difference between Compulsive Overeating and Bulimia Nervosa is that persons with this disorder do not purge following a bing

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