In the United States, as many as 10 million females and one million males suffer from an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. Approximately 25 million more are struggling with binge-eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).
Eating disorders are very serious illnesses that can be potentially life-threatening. NEDA (http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org) says that the stigma associated with eating disorders “keeps individuals suffering in silence, inhibits funding for research and creates barriers to treatment.” Due to this insufficient information, the public and professionals often fail to recognize the dangerous consequences of eating disorders. To further educate on this health issue, NEDA has recognized the last week of February 24 – March 1 as National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This year’s observance highlights the fact that body size and shape are strongly influenced by biological factors – such as genetics. It also calls to attention some of the new discoveries surrounding the role of genetics in the development of eating disorders.
The following are some of the symptoms of eating disorders, as identified by the American Psychiatric Association:
● A person who refuses to maintain body weight that is at or above the normal weight for the age and height of the individual. This would be measured by weight loss leading to the maintenance of body weight less than 85 percent of the expected weight gain during the period of growth.
● The person shows an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even if the person is underweight.
● The person has a distorted outlook on their body image.
Anorexia nervosa: Identified by excessive weight loss from self-starvation, according to NEDA. This disorder has been divided into two types: the restricting type and the binge-eating/purging type. A person with the restricting type would restrict their food intake and may over exercise. A person identified as a binge-eating/purging type would engage in overeating followed by self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, enemas, or diuretics.
Bulimia nervosa: Characterized by a secretive cycle of binge-eating that is followed by purging. After eating a large amount of food the person would “purge” by vomiting, laxatives, or over-exercising.
Binge-eating disorder: This disorder is identified by periods of uncontrolled, continuous, or impulsive eating beyond the point of feeling comfortably full. The binge eater usually does not purge, but may be involved in sporadic fasts or diets. Body weight may vary from mild to moderate or severe obesity.
Other eating disorders: Persons also may exhibit a combination of the signs and symptoms of anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating. While a combination of these symptoms may not be considered a full eating disorder, these behaviors can still be dangerous and may require professional help.
Treatment for eating disorders can be very effective. It is important to seek out professional help if you suspect that you, a friend, or a family member is showing symptoms of an eating disorder.