Eating Disorders: Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Treatment

Dr. Tasaduk Hussain Itoo

Introduction: There is a commonly held view that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice. Eating disorders are actually serious and often fatal illnesses that cause severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviours. These describe illnesses that are characterized by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight or shape. Eating disturbances may include inadequate or excessive food intake which can ultimately damage an individual’s well-being. Obsessions with food, body weight, and shape may also signal an eating disorder. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
Causes of Eating Disorders: Eating Disorders are complex disorders, influenced by a facet of factors. Though the exact cause of eating disorders is unknown, it is generally believed that a combination of biological, psychological, and/or environmental abnormalities contribute to the development of these illnesses.
Biological Factors:
⚫Irregular hormone functions
⚫Genetics (the tie between eating disorders and one’s genes is still being heavily researched, but we know that genetics is a part of the story).
⚫Nutritional deficiencies
Psychological Factors
⚫Negative body image
⚫Poor self-esteem
Environmental Factors
⚫Dysfunctional family dynamic
⚫Professions and careers that promote being thin and weight loss, such as ballet and modeling
⚫Aesthetically oriented sports, where an emphasis is placed on maintaining a lean body for enhanced performance. Examples include:
⚫Rowing
⚫Diving
⚫Ballet Gymnastics
⚫Wrestling
⚫Long distance running
⚫Family and childhood traumas:
⚫childhood sexual abuse, severe trauma
⚫Cultural and/or peer pressure among friends and co-workers
⚫Stressful transitions or life changes.
Sign & Symptoms : Eating disorders frequently appear during the teen years or young adulthood but may also develop during childhood or later in life. These disorders affect both genders, although rates among women are higher than among men.
1.Anorexia Nervosa : People with anorexia nervosa may see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight. People with anorexia nervosa typically weigh themselves repeatedly, severely restrict the amount of food they eat, and eat very small quantities of only certain foods. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. While many young women and men with this disorder die from complications associated with starvation, others die of suicide. In women, suicide is much more common in those with anorexia than with most other mental disorders. Symptoms include:
⚫Extremely restricted eating
⚫Extreme thinness (emaciation)-A relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight
⚫Intense fear of gaining weight
⚫Distorted body image, a self-esteem that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape, or a denial of the seriousness of low body weight.
Other symptoms may develop over time, including:
⚫Thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
⚫Mild anaemia and muscle wasting and weakness
⚫Brittle hair and nails
⚫Dry and yellowish skin
⚫Growth of fine hair all over the body (lanugo)
⚫Severe constipation
⚫Low blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse
⚫Damage to the structure and function of the heart
⚫Brain damage
⚫Multiorgan failure
⚫Drop in internal body temperature, causing a person to feel cold all the time
⚫Lethargy, sluggishness, or feeling tired all the time
⚫Infertility
2. Bulimia Nervosa: People with bulimia nervosa have recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over these episodes. This binge-eating is followed by behaviour that compensates for the overeating such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviours. Unlike anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia nervosa usually maintain what is considered a healthy or relatively normal weight. Symptoms include:
⚫Chronically inflamed and sore throat
⚫Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area
⚫Worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth as a result of exposure to stomach acid
⚫Acid reflux disorder and other gastrointestinal problems
⚫Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
⚫Severe dehydration from purging of fluids
⚫Electrolyte imbalance (too low or too high levels of sodium, calcium, potassium and other minerals) which can lead to stroke or heart attack
3. Binge –Eating Disorder
People with binge-eating disorder lose control over his or her eating. Unlike bulimia nervosa, periods of binge-eating are not followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting. As a result, people with binge-eating disorder often are overweight or obese. Symptoms include:
⚫Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time
⚫Eating even when you’re full or not hungry
⚫Eating fast during binge episodes
⚫Eating until you’re uncomfortably full
⚫Eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment
⚫Feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about your eating
⚫Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss.
Treatment For An Eating Disorder: Because of the severity and complexities of these conditions, a comprehensive and professional treatment team specializing in eating disorders is often fundamental in establishing healing and recovery. Treatment plans are utilized in addressing the many concerns a man or woman may be facing in the restoration of their health and well-being and are often tailored to meet individual needs. Treatment for an eating disorder is usually comprised of one or more of the following and addressed with medical doctors, nutritionists, and therapists for complete care:
⚫Medical Care And Monitoring: The highest concern in the treatment of eating disorders is addressing any health issues that may have been a consequence of eating disordered behaviours.
⚫Nutrition: This would involve weight restoration and stabilization, guidance for normal eating, and the integration of an individualized meal plan.
⚫Therapy: Therapy is a fundamental piece of treatment because it affords an individual in recovery the opportunity to address and heal from traumatic life events and learn healthier coping skills and methods for expressing emotions, communicating and maintaining healthy relationships. Different forms of psychotherapy, such as individual, family, or group, can be helpful in addressing the underlying causes of eating disorders. A family-based psychotherapy called the Maudsley approach, where parents of adolescents with anorexia nervosa assume responsibility for feeding their child, appear to be very effective in helping people gain weight and improve eating habits and moods. To reduce or eliminate binge-eating and purging behaviours, people may undergo cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is another type of psychotherapy that helps a person learn how to identify distorted or unhelpful thinking patterns and recognize and change inaccurate beliefs.
⚫Medications: Some medications may be effective in helping resolve mood or anxiety symptoms that can occur with an eating disorder or in reducing binge-eating and purging behaviours. These include antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
(The author a Medical Practioner at SMVD Narayana Super Specialty Hospital, Jammu is also a motivational speaker,activist,columnist and a top educator awardee. Views are his own)
drtasadukitoo@gmail.com

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