Eating disorders are not limited to one age, sex, or ethnicity, although they do tend to be most prevalent in Caucasian teenage females. For 35% of women, and over 75% of American teen-age girls, looking good means being bone thin. The truth is that thin does not necessarily mean healthy and healthy does not mean thin! Striving to meet this abnormal standard means thinness at any cost, leading to eating disorders that are extremely hard to overcome, and may be fatal. Men are not completely exempt either. Bodybuilders, male models, etc. compete with ever-thinner rivals, and can suffer reduced testicular function from starving.
Eating disorders are illnesses with a biological basis influenced by psychological, interpersonal, and social factors. Bulimia involves a binge-purge cycle - consumption of huge amounts of food in a very short time and then vomiting to purge it from the system. Anorexia is self-starvation, distorted body image, extreme preoccupation with food, sometimes binge eating. Similar eating disorders include excessive exercising (anorexia athletica), purposely skipping insulin if diabetic (diabulimia), or an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) where a person has disordered eating patterns but does not meet the criteria for a specific eating disorder.top
Extreme malnutrition from vomiting/laxatives (bulimia) that discharges most nutrients; or refusing to eat (anorexia); belligerent, impolite, aggressive behavior, low blood pressure, slow heartbeat; hard fecal stools; fluid retention; reduced metabolism; cold hands and feet; dry skin, brittle, dull hair; tooth decay and yellow teeth; cessation of menses. Bulimia sufferers may have a swollen neck and eroded tooth enamel from excessive vomiting, broken blood vessels on the face, low pulse rate and blood pressure, and extreme weakness.top
Eating disorders are usually caused by complex cultural or emotional problems that end up turning into a form of compulsive psychosis. Lack of control in life and depression, troubled relationships and a history of being teased can also influence the tendency towards an eating disorder.top
Overcoming an eating disorder requires a team approach and a dietitian is a crucial member of the team. Therapists can help unwrap the emotional ties as the dietitian sets a path for balanced eating. Registered dietitians are trained in behavior modification and help the patients identify potential "trigger" or "fear" foods in an effort to create new associations. With trigger foods, an emotional or chemical reaction may result in that person over or under eating. Determining food triggers involves dietary assessment (online or in person) and testing via a food sensitivity panel. Some foods are more common "triggers" because of their chemical structure and their hormonal influence, so treatment involves understanding these connections. Hormone imbalance may further exacerbate symptoms by triggering depression, obsession and preoccupation with body image. To better assess hormone levels, a female or male hormone panel may be recommended to evaluate hormonal status and provide proper treatment. Specifically, it has been found that low levels of certain hormones, particularly DHEA, have been associated with eating disorders. Overall, nutritional support is crucial in the treatment of eating disorders as one's diet can be both cause and effect. The overall balance of mind, body and spirit will help to promote a brain and body that has a greater capacity for eliminating eating disorder behaviors.top
National Eating Disorders Association. 2008. Available at: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/p.asp?WebPage_ID=294. Accessed on October 8, 2009.
Page L. Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-Healing for Everyone Eleventh Edition. Traditional Wisdom, Inc; 2000.
Rister S. Healing Without Medication. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications, Inc; 2003: 69-73.top