In a society where ‘thin is in,” many of us have tried skipping meals or going on diets to lose weight. Unlike dieting, eating disorders are medical problems that cause disturbances in eating behavior.
Anorexia nervosa is a disorder of severe self-imposed dieting. It affects teenage girls most often. Symptoms include refusing to eat, extreme weight loss, a distorted body image (thinking she’s fat when she is actually very thin), a preoccupation with food, low self-esteem, and excessive physical exercise,
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating and purging (forced vomiting or abuse of laxatives and diuretics). The binges are usually triggered by emotional upset, not hunger. Other symptoms include dry skin and brittle hair, swollen glands under the jaw from vomiting, depression and mood swings, a distorted body image, and secrecy to keep others from discovering the person’s abnormal behavior. People who have anorexia usually look starved, but most people who have bulimia maintain a normal weight and look healthy, most people with anorexia deny they have a problem; people with bulimia know that they do, but keep it a secret.
Compulsive overeating is characterized by binging on food. An overeater will consume thousands of calories at a time, quickly and without pleasure. Because there is no purging, a compulsive overeater becomes obese.
Eating disorders appear to be caused by emotional and psychological factors. They tend to run in families, so there may be a genetic link.
Eating disorders require professional treatment. If untreated, they can lead to major health problems or even death. Treatment usually involves nutritional counseling, individual psychotherapy, family therapy, and medication. A hospital stay may be required in extreme cases.
· Teach and model healthy eating and exercise habits at home and at school.
· Help young people develop confidence and self-esteem. Accept them for who they are.
· Be careful about encouraging a young person to lose weight. Communicate that you love and care for the person, regardless of how much he or she weighs.