Eating disorders and weight preoccupation can be understood as coping strategies to deal with underlying emotions, stresses, and experiences.
Anorexia nervosa is identified as drastic weight loss from dieting, which can lead to emaciation, compromised physical and psychological health, and sometimes death. Most individuals with anorexia don’t recognize how underweight they are, which makes it difficult to convince them to seek treatment.
Bulimia is identified by constant changes in weight, with episodes of binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting or purging by laxatives, and periods of fasting. People with bulimia may initially lose weight, but may gain all of it back because of the ineffectiveness of purging.
Anorexia and Bulimia can have serious impact on the person:
- Noticeable weight loss
- Distorted body image
- Loss of hair on head
- Excessive constipation
- Menstrual irregularities
- Swollen glands
- Tooth loss/decay
- Severe dehydration
- Risk of heart irregularities
- Inconspicuous binge eating
- Feelings of shame and guilt
What Causes Eating Disorders?
The cause of these eating disorders is unknown. Many factors may act together to cause someone to develop an eating disorder. Women with eating disorders struggle with a fear of weight gain, excessive concern about body shape and calories (likely related to society’s emphasis on dieting and fitness, and thinness being associated with beauty and popularity), feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem, depression, the pressure to achieve for others and not for self, and early puberty.
What Are The Signs Of Eating Disorders?
Living with anorexia nervosa or bulimia can be a devastating experience. Denial of problems and thinking and feeling that “nothing is wrong” is often part of having an eating disorder. People may turn their attention to their weight and body shape because they have no control in some other aspect of their lives. The disorder can literally control the individual’s life. It takes courage to admit that you have an eating disorder and seek help, but eating disorders can be overcome.
What Are Some Of The Approaches To Recovery?
There may be things that you can do to help yourself or your loved one recover from eating disorders. Some approaches that may be helpful include:
- Exploring counselling, therapy, or self-help groups
- Exploring Alternative Therapies
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
- Support from people who are understanding
Research has indicated that the earlier appropriate intervention occurs, the more likely the eating disorder will be successfully overcome. Approaches can include a combination of support groups, medical attention and counselling, including counselling for the family. Finding a knowledgeable person you feel comfortable with and can trust is very important. Participation in a local support group may help.
Remember you are not alone. You may want to contact your family physician or your local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association. The National Eating Disorder Information Centre has a telephone information line (416) 340-4156, a national register of private therapists and medical programs, and informative materials on eating disorders, including a bi-monthly newsletter.