Eating disorders are characterized by abnormal eating habits, such as eating too little or too much. Abnormal behaviors may also include compulsive or binge drinking that may become addictions for substances such as alcohol. Most eating disorders originate from psychological problems, but it may be difficult to diagnose their origin. Anorexia treatment programs may provide a supportive environment that facilitates recovery.
There are three types of medically recognized eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.
Anorexia nervosa is an obsession about keeping a low body weight. Persons suffering from anorexia fear gaining weight and they eat very small amounts. The consequence of insufficient nutrition is starvation. The muscles, including the heart, lose mass and the risk of cardiovascular problems increases. The lack of protein in the diet also causes bone loss and skin problems. Anorexics usually have Body Mass Index below 17.5 and they never think that they are thin enough. Anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate of any psychiatric disorder. Without treatment, one out of ten persons with anorexia nervosa dies from starvation, kidney failure, cardiac arrest, medical complications, or suicide.
A sad case of anorexia is that of Karen Carpenter whose beautiful contralto voice made her famous. She died at the age of 32 from heartbeat irregularities brought on by chemical imbalances associated with anorexia nervosa, according to the coroner's report.
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, the use of laxatives, excessive exercise or long fasts. These practices often lead to suppression of menstrual periods and muscle spasms from electrolyte imbalances caused by repeated vomiting or the use of laxatives. Bulimia, like anorexia, is caused by an obsession for achieving a perfect figure without regard to the body's nutritional requirements.
Bulimia is often accompanied by tooth problems caused by the loss of enamel when the teeth come in contact with the acids and enzymes from the stomach. As the enamel is weakened by the excess of acid, it gets thinner and it exposes the dentine which is sensitive. Bulimic patients usually have painful teeth and high dentist bills.
Binge eating disorder consists of eating at least 2 to 3 times a week without attempting to compensate for the extra calories consumed. Binge eating of "comfort foods" is used to relieve negative psychological effects or to increase positive feelings. Television shows frequently depict people eating a box of chocolates to cope with the stress of a disappointing relationship. This compulsive behavior rapidly leads to obesity. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, and that they have a higher rate of obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Pica is a less common type of eating disorder. Pica is characterized by eating substances that are usually non-nutritive, such as ice, clay, chalk, dirt or sand. Many of these habits may start innocuously by chewing on pencils, crayons or fingernails, but they can become problematic when dangerous objects are ingested, such as magnets, coins, paint chips or sharp objects.
Treatment of eating disorders
A psychological assessment of the patient is a high priority in the treatment of eating disorders. To be successful, the therapy has to determine the causes of the obsessions. This will help to implement a plan to improve the patient's self-image while getting proper nutrition.