Eating disorders: How each of them works
Having an eating disorder is a serious problem for several reasons. The first and most obvious is that we can not avoid food. A person with a problem with alcohol, drugs or gambling, for example, may try to get away from these factors in order to lead a normal life. A person who suffers for food must learn to rethink their relationship with her.
Another reason is that an eating disorder is a more complex pathology than meets the eye: although starting with the problem of food and weight, there are usually more complicated emotional problems behind . Lack of self-esteem, feelings of guilt, feelings of lack of control, histories of abuse … All these things and many others may be hidden after an eating disorder.
The eating disorders are divided mainly into three, although then there are other variants of each of them related for example with the intake of alcohol, such as ebriorexia ; the hours of eating, such as the nocturnal dinning syndrome; or its relationship with sports, such as sports anorexia .
1. Anorexia nervosa
The anorexia is a disorder in which people voluntarily lose more weight than is considered healthy for their age and height.
It is an unhealthy concern for the weight and the figure that leads those who suffer to stop eating absolutely or almost absolutely, exercising excessively and obsessively and using other methods such as diuretics or laxatives.
Causes of anorexia
It is not known exactly what can trigger an anorexic disorder, but there seem to be many factors involved, some of biological origin such as genetics or hormones, and other social factors such as the public and collective celebration of excessively thin physical models.
Some risk factors for anorexia are an excessive concern for weight and figure, having suffered eating disorders in childhood, having low self-esteem or a negative image of oneself, an obsessive perfectionism and an excessive fixation by the rules.
The women are more likely to develop anorexia than men, although the gap is narrowing. The years of preadolescence, adolescence and youth are the years with the highest risk to develop anorexia.
Symptoms of anorexia
It is important to detect an anorexia process as soon as possible , and for that, the people around the patient are essential since the patient will probably refuse to see the problem or try to hide it .
Some behaviors can give the alarm signal, for example, an exacerbated fear of weight gain even being below the recommended weight, refusing to stay at the recommended weight or focus only on losing weight as a way to be well without recognizing the risks of lose too much weight
As for food, you have to be alert when someone refuses to eat or usually throws up after doing so. Another habitual behavior is to cut the food into small piecesand move it around the plate without eating it; refuse to eat with other people ; exercising obsessively even when they are injured or too busy; take diuretic pills, laxative medications or appetite suppressants.
Other symptoms of anorexia, usually in more advanced stages of the disease, include dry skin and cracked lips, slow or confused thinking along with memory problems, extreme sensitivity to cold, depression, muscle loss.
Possible complications of anorexia
With the passage of time, anorexia can lead to serious complications. Among them is malnutrition due to lack of a complete diet, the weakening of the immune system and therefore an increased risk of infection, dehydration, weakening of bones and teeth, heart problems due to lack of potassium, seizures due to lack of sodium or thyroid problems.
The biggest challenge in the treatment of anorexia is convincing people who suffer from it that they have an illness . Often the search for treatment is made only when the pathology is already very advanced.
The treatment usually has two parts: one of them is focused on the patient regaining a normal weight , and another to treat the psychological backgroundof the disease. Often a hospitalization period is necessary , but treatment will continue later, sometimes for months or years.
2. Bulimia nervosa
Bulimia is another type of eating disorder in which the patient suffers from short periods of excessive food intake , called binge eating, followed by other periods in which a purging is usually carried out in the form of vomiting or taking laxative medications.
Bulimia and anorexia can be suffered at the same time. The fear of gaining weight also plays a role in this disease, and it is what causes purge periods.
Causes of bulimia
As with anorexia, it is not easy to pinpoint a single cause behind bulimia. Behind the feeding problems there are often complex factors related to genetics, biology, the influence of the environment and other psychological factors such as low self-esteem, negative feelings, episodes of abuse, etc.
In bulimia, there is a lack of control over one’s actions , which manifests itself in the moment of binge eating. This often leads to self-rejection , guilt and the need to purge afterwards, which usually brings a sense of relief .
Symptoms of bulimia
Again, the observation of the environment is often what serves to detect a bulimic disorder, so it is important to know the symptoms to be alert. However, sometimes this is more difficult than in the case of anorexia because bulimic people are often at their recommended weight, although often they do not feel this way, so that it may be less evident from the outside.
The binging is an obvious symptom but often done secretly, so they are not easy to observe. Episodes of vomiting after meals can be a warning signal.
Other external signs may be the purchase of large quantities of food , usually unhealthy or high in calories, which disappear quickly or the usual consumption of laxative, diuretic or vomiting medications.
With the passage of time, bulimia can lead to serious complications. The habit and frequency of vomiting, for example, can cause serious damage to the esophagus, decay and deterioration of the teeth and inflammation of the throat.
Vomiting combined with laxative products can end up leading to intestinal damage , constipation, dehydration, heart problems due to low levels of potassium and damage to the pancreas, among others.
Treatment of bulimia
Again, the most important and sometimes most difficult step in the treatment of bulimia is the detection of the disease, something patients often try to hide at all costs.
Unlike anorexia, bulimia often does not require hospital admission unless other factors such as anorexia, some of the complications mentioned above, or severe depression concur.
The treatment again has a basically psychological weight , although often drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are also used.
3. Unbridled appetite disorder
It is one of the most common but of the least known. People who suffer from it regularly ingest unusually large amounts of food, which we call binge eating.
In those periods, the person who suffers loses control of their diet and is not able to stop eating.
Causes of rampant appetite disorder
Again, the causes are several and complex : from genetic factors to changes in the chemistry of the brain through emotional problems, depression or anxiety or eating an unhealthy diet with nutritional deficiencies or skipping some meals.
There is often a previous obsession with food, for example, in a very strict diet, so that food is identified with emotional relief, an escape route or a form of self-punishment.
Eating disorders and psychological treatment
Often we tend to despise mental illnesses as if they were less important and healing was a matter of mere will of the patient. This way of thinking not only does not solve the problem, but adds to the suffering of patients a social stigma. As if to cure everything necessary was to desire it and if they do not heal it is because they do not have sufficient willpower.
Eating disorders fall into this category, and require both physical and psychological treatment . Making them eat is not enough. You have to help them to realize what is behind these problems and how they can solve it . Many times they are problems of self-esteem, family situation or abusive partner, traumatic experiences or lack of control in their life.
Therapy is an indispensable part of the treatment to understand and correct the hidden causes of the disease. But it is not the only thing. Often it can be helpful to participate in support groups with other people who have gone through or are going through the same, as well as the support of the environment, family and friends, who understand without judging and help the patient to recover.
It is also important to know that all these disorders can cause relapses over time. As with addictions, eating disorders rarely disappear completely and people who suffer from them must make the effort to eat normally throughout their lives. That’s why relapses are common, but they should not be taken as a weakness or with desperation, but as another stage in recovery.