Eating Disorders

Anorexia and bulimia are the two best-known eating disorders, but there are others. Over-eating is also a form of disordered eating. Obsession with certain foods not touching each other on a plate or eating only one color or type of food is partly OCD and partly an eating disorder. OCD and eating disorders are both mental health problems which need to be taken very seriously and treated by a mental health practitioner.

Anorexia

Jennifer Jason Leigh brought this disorder to light in the film “Best Little Girl in the World.” She portrayed a girl who was so obsessed with her weight that she refused to eat and wound up in hospital being fed through a drip. Her parents even tried to force feed her; they were afraid and confused because at that time little was known about eating disorders. They were not openly discussed or understood.

People with anorexia stop eating or eat so little that their weight drops below a healthy minimum. The disorder can begin in pre-pubescent girls but is usually associated with teenagers and young adults. Left untreated, the problem can continue into adulthood if a person is fortunate enough to survive, but anorexia is a killer. A body deprived of nutrition will eventually shut down. Anorexic men, girls, boys, and women die of heart attacks every year.

Bulimia

Anorexia gets the spotlight because refusing food seems somehow more civilized and acceptable than eating too much and making one’s self vomit. Bulimics binge and purge. Purging takes one or a mixture of three forms: self-induced vomiting, taking laxatives, and over-exertion.

A bulimic person often puts on weight because the body goes into something know as “starvation mode” in which it hordes every calorie it can get by slowing the metabolism considerably. Bulimics frequently lay down fat even though they purge many of the calories they consume, making them even more frustrated and determined to purge every possible calorie. Continually straining to eliminate unwanted waste puts tremendous pressure on the GI tract and heart. Induced vomiting can cause internal bleeding as well.

Overeating

Have you ever wondered why a friend is so overweight? You can guarantee she does not want to weigh 250 pounds, so what is causing her to eat more than she needs? Chastising or embarrassing obese individuals is counter-productive. They already feel insignificant and ugly and they know their weight is out of control. What they don’t know is how to stop the cycle of depression and overeating.

Mental Health Treatment for Eating Disorders

Men and women who succumb to eating disorders often exhibit one or several of the following symptoms:

• depression
• anxiety
• personality disorders
• a need for control
• suicidal thinking
• addiction
• OCD
• PTSD

In other words, they are emotionally disturbed and in need of in-depth counseling. There is no such thing as a “mild” eating disorder. A person who starts with binging and purging just once a month could escalate her behavior to once every week, then every day or even three times daily. This person is obsessed with her weight and might step on the scales every morning; possibly several times each day.

Self-abuse is often linked to eating disorders. A person will see how much pain she can tolerate and learn to exercise control. The pain takes her mind off of her hunger but is also an act of self-loathing. She might even be thinking of someone else when she cuts: imagining how an abuser would feel if she could hurt him back.

Long-term, intensive counseling and group therapy are critical to overcoming any eating disorder. Patients need to understand that they are not alone in their sadness or fear. They are not the only males and females to have survived sexual or physical abuse. Counselors teach these individuals the tools that will help them to love themselves and their bodies but they are also mindful of the fact that an eating disorder isn’t always about weight. Self-image is at the heart of an eating disorder, but not necessarily one’s image of what “fat” means (though this is common). Low self-image is wrapped up in a deeper sense of self-hatred. Overweight people frequently say they try to hide inside their bodies. It might not come from any obvious place.

Treatment Centers

There are residential facilities around the country where individuals with severe eating disorders can live with other people in similar situations. Usually, residents are dealing with co-existing conditions (bipolar disorder plus bulimia, for instance) and nothing their families or GPs have tried is working.

Nutritionists and dietitians teach participants about the way their bodies work and what happens when they don’t get the nutrients they need. They are taught about healthy eating and take part in gentle exercise. Some facilities encourage participants to take part in yoga, gardening, or they enroll in equine therapy. Friendships and long-term healing are the rewards of seeking intensive therapy.

Eating Disorders
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Jana Evans

Janet Evans is our resident Health Nut and aspiring chef. She can shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's with her eyes closed.