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An eating disorder is one of the most prevalent disorders among the youth in this era. Although some people think it is not a significant problem and tend to overlook it, eating disorders should be given serious consideration since they affect the youth considerably today. This is due to the fact that psychological ramifications of eating disorders are inclined to have long-lasting effects on a young individual’s adolescent life. The aim of this paper is to define what eating disorders are as well as identify the main causes of these disorders.
Definition of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are defined as psychological problems marked by an obsession with eating habits and weight. Therefore, an eating disorder may develop when someone tries to lose weight, thinking it will help them cope with life; as a result, they resolve to change what and how they eat in order to keep in shape (Middleton 10). According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), eating disorders cause significant disorganization to a person’s eating habits: people may start to consume either too much or too little food. Another cause can be a severe obsession concerning body weight or figure. The good news is that eating disorders are curable medical diseases; however, people should be aware that some symptoms can be life threatening if they ignore treatment.
Glorification of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders have received a lot of publicity through mass media; people tend to idealize outer appearances of famous celebrities in art, sports, music or cinema. The disorders have now been associated with a certain type of social class, fame and achievement. For others, the favorable social connotations attached to eating disorders serve to encourage them to carry on the pursuit of thinness. This simply means that eating disorders are not just as a result of dieting or binge-eating cycles, but are the consequences of a search for an identity and a way to survive in a sexualized society (Berg, Hurley & McSherry 32-34).
According to the NHS, social pressure to look thin is usually considered to be the main reason of eating disorders; however, the problem can be more complex and influenced by certain biological and other factors. It is estimated that about 1 in 250 women and 1 in 2,000 men will experience anorexia nervosa at some point in their lives. Bulimia is even more common with women suffering more. Binge-eating affects both sexes almost equally (NHS).
Types of Eating Disorders
Experts distinguish three categories of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa an binge-eating. Although these disorders affect people of various ages, they are more common among teenagers aged 15-18.
Anorexia is a condition whereby mainly young people starve themselves, thinking that they are overweight. Some of the conditions associated with anorexia nervosa include;
- The victim becomes emaciated (extremely thin)
- High anxiety over acquiring weight
- Very limited eating patterns
- Scarce periods among females
- An implacable pursuit of an ideal image and no desire to remain within healthy weight
- May develop an anomalous body image.
Those suffering anorexia consider themselves to be too fat, even though their weight is too low. They become obsessed with maintaining certain weight as well as with other activities related to food consumption. Patients constantly check their weight and eat small quantities of certain types of food. Others may undertake binge-eating, after which they perform too intense physical exercises, make themselves vomit and abuse medicine that normalizes digestion. Although some people with anorexia nervosa need one course of rehabilitation to fully get rid of the habit, others can return to their former state again; in some cases, people cannot give up and their health deteriorates while they struggle with their disease (NIMH).
Additional symptoms for anorexia that may emerge with time are as follows;
- Thinning of the bones,
- Brain damage,
- Dry yellowish skin,
- Brittle nails and hair,
- Mild anemia, wasting of muscles,
- Severe constipation,
- Low blood pressure, and
- Drop in internal body temperatures making the person feel cold most of the time (NIMH).
There are three steps in curing anorexia nervosa:
- Returning to and maintaining a healthy weight
- Addressing the psychological problems that lead to the disorder
- Getting rid of obsessions that lead to an unnatural desire to become abnormally thin and taking preventive measures
Research proposes that the use of antidepressants and similar medication may prove successful in curing anorexia nervosa. Such drugs can improve disposition and satisfaction with life. In addition, various kinds of psychotherapy can be of assistance as well. The Maudsley approach, for example, suggests that parents of the affected child should be responsible for their son’s or daughter’s nutrition. Such technique and this is especially effective in maintaining normal weight and enhancing food consuming patterns (NIMH).
According to Middleton (p.13), bulimia describes someone who eats like an ox. NIMH states that this condition implies an individual consumes abnormally large quantity of food and does not manage this process. After such actions people suffering from bulimia indulge in activities like abstinence, spewing, medicine abuse, intense physical occupations in order to get rid of the built-up weight. Contrary to anorexia nervosa, individuals suffering from bulimia try to adhere to a standard weight. However, similar to those with anorexia nervosa, people suffering from bulimia are afraid of becoming fat. They are constantly dissatisfied with their outer appearance, which fuels a desperate desire to lose weight (NIMH).
The symptoms are as follows:
- Swollen salivary glands
- Severe dehydration
- Intestinal distress and an irritation from excessive use of diuretics or laxatives
- An inflamed sore throat
- Exposure to stomach acid results to tooth decay and worn tooth enamel
- Gastrointestinal problems like acid reflux (NIMH).
Treatment of bulimia nervosa largely depends on the individual and includes diverse alternatives. According to NIMH, “A patient may undergo nutritional counseling and psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy,(CBT)” to help reduce or eliminate binge-eating and purging behaviors. CBT can help patients concentrate on their disorder and try to resolve them. This is because CBT is designed in a way to successfully treat bulimia nervosa and is especially efficient in altering people’s behavioral patterns and preferences. Antidepressants like Prozac are used in treatment of this disorder, especially with patients who experience anxiety or depression. Another antidepressant, Fluoxetine, is famous for decreasing such unnatural activities and desires, as well as for enhancing food consuming preferences and making it less probable that patients will return to their lifestyle (NIMH).
People suffering from a binge-eating disorder do not maintain healthy food consuming patterns at all. Contrary to bulimia nervosa, after binge-eating individuals do not indulge in vomiting, abstinence or physical activity. Therefore, those suffering from this disorder are frequently corpulent. Such people are susceptible to developing high blood pressure or diseases related to heart and vessels problems. Plump people tend to feel shame and anguish because of their outer appearance and body image; as a consequence, they may even eat more (NIMH).
According to NIMH, “Treatment options for binge-eating disorders are similar to those used to treat bulimia nervosa.” CBT and psychotherapy have proven to be rather successful in assisting patients. Various antidepressants are known to normalize binge-eating episodes and can help individuals deal with depression periods (NIMH).
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