Eating Disorders

If you have ever known anyone with an eating disorder or currently have one yourself, you may be aware of the devastating effects it can have on someone’s life. The National Eating Disorders Association states that “currently, 10 million American women and 1 million American men are battling anorexia or bulimia”. Not all eating disorders are the same; they incorporate different concepts and have different damaging effects of the body. However, eating disorders usually result from psychological, social, or interpersonal problems, such as poor body image.

Anorexia and bulimia are the most common disorders that we will focus on. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by starvation. Individuals who are anorexia lose a dramatic amount of weight, as they severely restrict their calorie intake. Bulimia is different from anorexia; bulimia is characterized by the purging of food by vomiting or excessive exercise. This disorder may have characteristics of binge eating. Binge eating is when an individual consumes an usually large amount of food at one time. In bulimics, this process is then followed with purging of the food. Both types of eating disorders are very dangerous to your health.

In anorexia, deficiencies of many vitamins and minerals are prominent due to lack of food consumption. The side effects of this can be devastating because deficiencies can lead to malfunction of the body’s organs, cells, and tissues, which can result in death. Additionally, by not getting the appropriate carbohydrate, protein, and fat needs, the body will begin breaking itself down to get the fuel it needs. Your muscle will be broken down so protein can be made. Additionally, the fat that insulates your organs, allowing them to function, will disappear. Glucose, which is obtained from carbohydrates, is essential for life. Your brain, red blood cells, and nervous tissue require glucose to function; if they do not function, death occurs. In anorexia, your body goes through a process of breaking itself down to get glucose to try to keep you alive. If anorexia continues long enough, the person will die because of complications and because of the lack of fuel in the body. Hair loss, extreme fatigue, osteoporosis, dangerously low blood pressure, and growth of little hair all over the body (to try to keep the body warm) are all side-effects.

Bulimia also has dangerous side-effects. Excessive vomiting damages the body, erodes the teeth, causes holes in the esophagus, and changes the normal function of digestion. Laxative use is also a way bulimics purge the food they consume. This is also dangerous, as it causes organ damage (especially to the colon), mineral deficiencies, and dehydration, which results in an imbalance in the body’s water status. Cancer is also a side affect from constant vomiting, especially in the esophagus. Compulsive exercising can result in many of the same effects of anorexia, as the body will not meet its nutrient needs. It can also strain the body and increase fatigue.

Because of the severity of eating disorders, if you or anyone you know has one, it is urgent that medical action be taken quickly. Individuals suffering from eating disorders need the help of a healthcare team in order to recover; psychological counseling, nutrition support, and hospital based care are crucial in the recovery process. Signs and symptoms of eating disorders include dramatic weight loss, isolation (especially during mealtime), going to the bathroom for long periods of time after meal time, hair loss, swollen glands, feeling cold, very low blood pressure, a halt in menstrual cycle, extreme fatigue, and extreme exercise. If you suspect that a friend has an eating disorder or you yourself has one, please seek help before the damage done is irreversible!

References:

National Eating Disorders Association

Something Fishy: Website on Eating Disorders

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