Throughout recorded history and even before, mankind has suffered from a variety of illnesses and ailments. Whether it be from viruses, bacterium, or from the person himself, diseases and other disorders continue to take their toll, both physically and mentally. Among these disorders, one might find it unusual to find that even the very act of eating can sometimes be harmful to oneself. Compulsive overeating, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa are disorders that do not receive much of the media spotlight: nevertheless, these are serious enough to warrant medical care, since if left untreated, the patients succumb to the disorder or to one of many related side effects.
These eating disorders combined affect about five million people in the United States alone, and of that number, about one percent of men and five percent of adolescent and adult women have anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. What is even more compelling is that fifteen percent of young women have unhealthy or disordered eating patterns that, in time, could lead to severe health problems. As if these statistics were not sobering enough, about one thousand women die from anorexia nervosa each year (http://www.mirror-miror.org/symptoms.htm). Research has proven that there is no single group of people afflicted with these disorders. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and compulsive overeating can strike anyone, no matter their ethnicity, sex, or age. Other illnesses can bring about eating disorders, but more often than not their origin is somewhat uncertain. What one can be certain of is that these diseases can be cured, although, not without the disorder taking its toll on the body. Grants and funds have been set up for the education of people about eating disorders and to provide help and support, such as the Elisa Ruth McCall Memorial Endowment Fund, established in memory of Elisa McCall, who at age 20 died from an eating disorder (http://www.mirror-miror.org/symptoms.htm).
Anorexia nervosa is probably the easiest to spot of the three major eating disorders. It was also one of the first to be recorded, as early as 1649, by an English physician. However, it was not until the 1870’s that a Parisian neurologist again described the disorder and a British physician gave it its current name (http://ndmda.org/eating.htm). At first, it was thought to be related to the endocrine system and was treated with thyroid extracts, which did not help. Anorexia nervosa was thought to be a rare disease, but in the early 1980’s it became widely known as a result of the death of Karen Carpenter, a popular singer.
Some of the warning signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa are a very rapid and noticeable weight loss, excessive exercise, unusual eating habits, and of complaining about one’s weight, even when it is within reasonable limits. Fatigue and muscle weakness are brought about by the decrease in food consumption. Evidence of excessive use of laxatives, enemas, diet pills, or frequent vomiting are other signs of the disorder, as are depression, irritability, mood swings, or dizziness. People that suffer from the disorder often wear baggy clothing to hide their weight loss. In women, the loss of the menstrual pattern or an irregular pattern are often signs of the disorder. Other symptoms are headaches, a pale complexion, and cold spells. Curiously, the absence of appetite is very rare until the later stages of the disease. Another symptom is lowered hormonal levels in the patient, very often thyroid suppression (http://www.mirror-mirror.org/def.htm).
Factors that could be the precipitating causes of the disease are most likely to be social and psychological, although biological factors could indicate a predisposition towards the disease. In the Unites States and other Western societies, there is much emphasis on a woman being thin to be considered attractive and desirable. That is supposed to be the main culprit in the development of this disorder. Women often get the impression that attractiveness equals thinness and they will do anything to slim down. Some evidence suggests that anorexia is also caused by a dysfunctional relationship between the patient and the parents. Overprotection and lack of conflict resolution may lead a child to establish self control through appetite suppression and self-starvation. Psychological factors are also come into play. Patients suffering from this disorder tend to be perfectionists, rigid, and lack autonomy and selfhood. A delay in sexual development in teenagers is not uncommon as is a decreased interest in sex for older patients (http://ndmda.org/eating.htm).
Often, treatment is started or recognized when the patient has already lost a considerable amount of weight. For effective treatment, the patient must be a willing participant in the treatment plan. Hospitalization is usually the first step in treating this disorder, followed by psychotherapy sessions and pharmacotherapy. Patients do resist hospitalization, but after several weeks they do realize they need help. Cognitive behavioral approaches are used to address the disorder as is family therapy. No one has come up with any type of medication yet to cure the core symptoms of anorexia nervosa. Some drugs have been used, such as Periactin and Elavil, but they in no way cure the disorder (http://ndmda.org/eating.htm).
Bulimia nervosa is another of the major eating disorders that most people suffer from. This disorder is characterized by binge eating, where a person eats a vast amount of food and then purges it, either by vomiting or by using laxatives. It is not uncommon for people suffering from this disorder to eat up to 10000 calories in one sitting and then purge it. Ancient Romans and Greeks used to practice it, but it was not widely known to doctors until the 1970’s. Even then, it was though to be a stage of anorexia nervosa. In 1979 the disorder was given its name by Gerald Russell an English psychiatrist. Occasional binges have been reported in up to 40 percent of college women, and this disorder typically strikes more women than men (http://ndmda.org/eating.htm).
Some of the warning signs and symptoms of the disorder are secretive eating or missing food, frequent bathroom visits after eating, fasting and rapid weight fluctuation. As with anorexia nervosa, the person also suffers from depression, fatigue, and muscle weaknesses. Binge eating, vomiting, diet pill and laxative abuse are other of the symptoms that signal the disorder. Swollen glands, broken blood vessels, and an irregular heartbeat are signs that the person is suffering from bulimia nervosa. Tooth decay and a sore throat could result of the frequent vomiting (http://www.mirror-mirror.org/def.htm).
Probable causes of the disorder are being linked to biological causes, such as the absence of serotonin and norepinephrine, both neurotransmitters. Antidepressant drugs often benefit these patients so they are prescribed. As for social factors, there seems to be that bulimic patients tend to have more outward conflicts with parents. These patients also seem to be suffering from depression. Psychological factors also play a role here, with patients usually not adjusting well to adolescence. Bulimic patients tend to be more outgoing, angry and impulsive, so self-destructive behavior is also indicative of the disorder.
Treatment for bulimia nervosa is quite similar to that of the treatment for anorexia nervosa. Since patients feel less secretive about their disorder, they respond better to treatment than patients with anorexia. Psychotherapy, group therapy, and family therapy are all used to treat this disorder. Bulimia patients usually do not have to be hospitalized, since their condition does not warrant it. However, in extreme cases where the patient has a severe metabolic disruption or suicidal tendencies hospitalization is urgent and needed. Patients are taught self-control and judgment. Group therapy is also recommended for patients. Prozac, Tofranil, Norpramin , and other drugs have proven effective in treating bulimia(http://ndmda.org/eating.htm).
Compulsive overeating is another of the food disorders many people suffer from. It is generally characterized by uncontrollable eating and weight gain (http://www.mirror-mirror.org/phymed.num). The main goal of compulsive eaters is to escape from problems, or to cope with emotions or stress. The people suffering from this disorder do realize they have a problem. Usually the problem starts in a person’s early years as a result of never learning how to handle stressful situations(http://www.mirror-mirror.org/def.htm). Dieting does not help, since they usually fail, and in doing so, often bring on another eating binge. As of today, this problem is not taken as seriously as anorexia and bulimia. Therapy and counseling could be effective in dealing with this problem.
Of course, not every person that completes the treatment will go on and be cured of it forever. Every so often a person will fall into the cycle again, but that person does not have to continue in it. Discussion of the relapse with the therapist is recommended. Punishing oneself after a relapse is discouraged. When one does relapse, think about how it happened and the steps that led to it. The underlying issues of the disorder must be dealt with even if one is already eating normally (http://www.mirror-miror.org/symptoms.htm).
Eating disorders can be overcome if the person suffering from it seeks the needed help, since most people will not admit to the problem, either because they believe they do not have a problem or because they are too afraid to admit it. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are now being treated for serious disorders, but compulsive overeating is still not being classified as a serious disorder. These three disorders combined are taking their toll on people of all ages and their families. (http://www.mirror-mirror.org/def.htm) (http://www.mirror-mirror.org/phymed.num) (http://ndmda.org/eating.htm) (http://www.smu.edu/~eating_disorders/body.html) (http://www.mirror-miror.org/symptoms.htm)
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