An eating disorder is a harmful, extreme fixation on food, body image, and dieting that can have life-threatening consequences for both women and men. These disorders normally involve starvation, purging, and binge eating. At HHC, we will work in conjunction with your doctors to treat your condition. Eating disorders usually result in significant physical damage that requires medical attention.
Anorexia usually develops in young people for a variety of reasons, including the need to fit in or conform to societal standards of being “thin and beautiful”. It is a serious mental illness: the patient never chooses anorexia.
The word “anorexia” means “loss of appetite”. If you have anorexia, you are, in fact, starving your body by very restricted complex diets. As you lose weight, you feel a compulsion to lose more. This causes damage to every part of your body. Your hair and nails become brittle and eventually begin falling out; the skin gets dry and flaky, and it grows lanugo, a fine hair that keeps your face and your body warm. The body shuts down to save energy: your heart rate slows, your blood pressure drops, the body burns fat and then muscles, including the heart muscle. Damage occurs in the heart and in the brain. Anorexia changes the way you think, and how you view yourself and others.
The first step is to get medical attention to treat the damage to the body. The second step is to start eating, and the third step is therapy to explore the underlying causes and triggers.
The name “bulimia” comes from two Greek words that mean “ox-hunger”. That name fits, because people with bulimia sometimes eat like an ox: they might eat an entire pizza and a tub of ice cream. They eat until their stomachs hurt. This is called binging. After binging, people with bulimia force their bodies to get rid of the food. They force themselves to vomit, or they take drugs to cause diarrhea. This part of bulimia is called purging.
Many people with bulimia deny that they have a problem, and the keep their binging and purging a secret. They often suffer from deep shame around their relationship with food. Like many other eating disorders, bulimia occurs for many reasons: sometimes it starts when a person is unhappy and turns to food for comfort, sometimes it starts when a person is on diet.
Frequent vomiting is dangerous and harmful to the body: it causes swelling around the jaw and neck, and makes the face look puffy; stomach acid burns the esophagus and damages the teeth. Frequent vomiting can tear the stomach lining, causing life-threatening problems. Purging destroys the balance of chemicals in the body which in turn can damage the kidneys. It can upset the normal rhythms of the heartbeat and cause heart attacks. Bulimia can affect the brain too: a chemical imbalance makes it hard to think clearly; makes a person feel depressed and anxious.
First, you need to seek medical help to repair the damage to your body, and stop the cycle of binging and purging. There are hospitals and eating disorder clinics that provide help. Finally, therapy will help you learn why the binging and purging started in the first place.
Food and Fitness www.kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness
Mirror-Mirror, Eating Disorders Shared Awareness Canada www.mirror-mirror.org/eatdis.html
National Women’s Health Information Center www.4women.gov
Also known as compulsive overeating, this disorder is characterized primarily by periods of compulsive, uncontrolled, continuous eating beyond the point of feeling comfortably full. While there is no purging, there may be sporadic fasts or repetitive diets, and frequent feelings of shame or self-hatred after a binge. Body weight may vary from normal to mild, moderate, or severe obesity.
“The whole issue is obsession,” says Steven Bratman, MD, who in 1997 coined the word “orthorexia” from the Greek “ortho”, meaning straight and correct.
“This is about the obsession with eating to improve your health,” says the author of the 2001 publication Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia: Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating.
There are eating disorders that manifest as a combination of the signs and symptoms of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and other disordered eating behaviour. Not all of these disorders are officially recognized mental illnesses, but they can cause physical and mental damage. Any time eating behaviors cause distress, they should be evaluated by a professional.