What are eating disorders? Eating orders are considered mental illnesses that affect a person’s eating habits. They manifest differently for each person, whether it’s a decrease or increase in intake.
However, eating disorders are nothing to ignore, because while they may start small such as a lack of appetite or an increase in appetite, a person can become obsessed with the change in their eating habits and may show signs of other mental illnesses as well.
There are a lot of causes of eating disorders, and these can be either something within themselves, or the world around them. Sometimes, even growing up can be a reason why a person has an eating disorder.
Here are some of the causes of eating disorders:
Sometimes, it’s the body itself that has difficulty with food. This usually happens because of a problem in the neuroendocrine system, which contains the Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) which in turn is important in someone’s eating behavior.
Substance abuse and alcoholism
Substances and alcohol can decrease a person’s hunger, but they do not decrease the body’s actual need for food. The more a person takes these substances, the less they will feel like eating and therefore affect their eating behavior.
When one person is attempting to lose weight, there’s a chance that their friends will attempt to diet as well in order to “fit in”. Athletes also tend to succumb to eating disorders due to their active lifestyles and need to stay in shape.
The media, especially in Western society, tends to portray thin people as examples of beauty and perfection, which can lead to anxiety and pressure on both men and women to keep losing weight in order to be recognized as perfect.
Kinds of eating disorders
Anorexia nervosa (AN)
This eating disorder is one of the more commonly heard disorders today. It involves the fear of gaining weight, which leads the person to restrict their food intake with counting calories and being picky about what they eat, and therefore leads to problems in the body.
People with anorexia nervosa tend to view themselves as too fat even if they are underweight and continually check themselves in front of a mirror to see if they are still thin. Because they eat too little, they show symptoms such as rapid weight loss, swollen joints, hair loss, rapid mood swings and depression.
Some people tend to mistake this for anorexia, which is a medical term for a lack of appetite, but experts say that the two are completely different and that anorexia nervosa is the proper term for the disorder. In fact, anorexia nervosa does not involve a lack of appetite, but simply the fear of gaining weight.
For people with bulimia nervosa, binge eating is fine as long as the excess food can be removed immediately in order to maintain a thin or ‘perfect’ body figure. After consuming a large amount of food, a person with bulimia will almost always attempt to remove the food by inducing vomiting, taking a laxative or diuretic, or exercising in excess. Much like those with anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia may have a fixation with calorie counting, and see themselves as too fat.
Symptoms of bulimia include dental erosion due to the frequent contact between teeth and gastric acid, swollen salivary glands, oral trauma, peptic ulcers and electrolyte imbalance which can lead to death.
Binge eating disorder (BED)
In contrast with AN, people with this disorder tend to eat in excess, and unlike those with bulimia, they don’t make an effort to purge immediately afterward. They are also likely to have more binge episodes, sometimes even twice a week, and are known to eat faster during a binge episode rather than a normal eating episode.
However, people with this particular disorder are sometimes distinct from those with compulsive eating disorders in that those with BED feel guilty after a binge episode and even disgust with themselves for doing so.
People with this disorder have cravings for either food that have no nutrition, or items that are not meant to be food at all, such as chalk, baking soda or glass. They have difficulty distinguishing a food item and a non-food item.
Eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS)
Eating disorders classified here are usually those that don’t fit the criteria or either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Compulsive eating (COE) or the addiction to food and eating, is classified as this.