Eating Disorder – Causes, Manifestations , Consequences

March 5, 2007 by  
Filed under ADDICTION

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By Michael Russell

The human body functions using a set of inter-connected activities and processes all of which combine together to create the natural rhythms of our day-to-day existence. When this innate balance is disturbed, we experience conditions that are medically described as ‘disorders’. When the physiological equations are disturbed, the common manifestations of the imbalance are in the areas of sleep and food intake. The most widely accepted signs of physical wellness are normal appetite and sound sleep; conversely, when a person has an irregular appetite or sleeps badly, he is generally diagnosed as ‘unwell’.

Eating disorders affect millions of people in today’s world and are a by-product of the stress and strain of modern life. The condition called an eating disorder, or EDR, as it is referred to, occurs in various forms. It is commonly thought that an eating disorder is over eating, but this is not true; neither do the disorders relate to the appetite or digestive system of the individual. The underlying reasons are very often psychological, sociological or related to peer perceptions.

Some people suffer from eating disorders owing to persistent depression, loneliness, low self-esteem or anxiety. Sometimes the disorder is the result of frustration and is born out of a perceived failure to meet the so-called social standards relating to weight, figure and good looks. These standards are creations of cosmetic and ‘wellness’ companies who relentlessly broadcast the message that a person who does not conform to their prescribed standards for a perfect figure has no place in today’s society. However, the physiological fact is that each person’s constitution is different and it is neither possible nor desirable to conform to the advertised norms. These advertising strategies have the unfortunate consequence of making many people lose faith in their intrinsic worth and chase the illusory ideal of perfect looks, leading to eating disorder. In some people the condition is also brought on by family and relationship problems, emotional diffidence or trauma.

There are several irregular or abnormal eating habits that fall under the definition of disorders. The most common forms are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, compulsive over eating and binge eating disorder, as well as unspecified eating disorders. Most of these conditions are caused by reasons other than totally physical and hence can be treated with a combination of individual or group counseling, nutritional guidance and supervision, as well as medication.

Anorexia nervosa may be defined as a ‘non-eating disorder’; most women and some men are so obsessed with the idea of staying thin that they drastically reduce their food intake. The constant fear of obesity governs all their food habits; their lives are more determined by what others may think, rather than by their own convictions relating to food and nutrition. Apart from unhealthy weight loss, such people suffer from irritability, fatigue, low energy levels, disruption of normal body processes, as well as low self-evaluation.

Bulimia nervosa is a condition where a person over eats, feels guilty and ashamed about it and subsequently attempts to correct the excess with purgatives, diuretics or exercise. Such people alternate between bouts of eating and purging, thus subjecting their bodies to extreme stress. Bulimia nervosa is related to social perceptions relating to body weight, appearance and other image-related factors; people suffering from the condition indulge in secretive eating, are subject to depression and weakness and constantly seek approval and acceptance from others.

Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia nervosa, with the difference being that indiscriminate eating is not followed by purging. Such people indulge in excessive eating often without any reference to appetite, eat rapidly, suffer from guilt pangs and low self worth.

Compulsive eating is characterized by uncontrolled consumption and generally starts in childhood; often it is the body’s way of coping with tension and trauma. Children living in an environment of domestic discord or violence often resort to over eating to block out the emotional stress. In some cases overeating is a case of plain personal and parental negligence and leads to obesity and a host of health issues in adult life.

There are several lesser known eating disorders that do not fall into any specific category, but are equally harmful to health; the one common factor is that all of them represent in some way the individual’s troubled response to personal and social pressures. Apart from clinical and medical treatment, social and educational institutions can do much to prevent eating disorders. This can be achieved by instilling healthy food habits in children at an early age, creating awareness about nutritional eating and above all, by inculcating in them a sense of self worth and self-esteem not related to extraneous factors such as weight and appearance.

Michael Russell

Your Independent guide to Eating Disorders

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.

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