Unhealthy eating habits could be signs of any of a list of eating disorders.
Unhealthy perceptions of food and eating habits may result in a list of eating disorders. These perceptions may be propagated by self-inflicted beliefs, peer pressure or the media, but regardless of an individuals motivation, the consequences of an eating disorder can be fatal.
In the United States alone, it is estimated that at least 10 million women and 1 million men suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia, orthorexia nervosa or binge eating. Eating disorders are considered mental health issues and may be linked to other problems such as depression or clinical anxiety. If an individual has an eating disorder, they may either refuse to eat for fear of gaining weight, or they may overeat compulsively and then purge themselves through self-induced vomiting.
Individuals with anorexia nervosa severely reduce the number of calories they eat per day, in effect slowly starving themselves to death. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, anorexia nervosa is most often associated with adolescents, with 76 percent of cases in the United States occurring in individuals between the ages of 11 and 20. The rate of anorexia among women is approximately 10 times that of men. The diseases progression may go unnoticed for long enough to become irreversible even with treatment, and the mortality rate for those suffering from anorexia nervosa is about 6 percent the highest-recorded death rate of any mental illness. In addition, 50 percent of anorexia-related deaths are suicides.
According to The Mayo Clinic, symptoms and physical signs of anorexia nervosa include:
If recognized early enough, anorexia nervosa may be treated through a combination of psychotherapy and medical care. Unfortunately, only one-third of people suffering from anorexia seek treatment.
The eating habits of persons suffering from bulimia nervosa are the opposite of those with anorexia nervosa but are just as dangerous. Instead of refusing to eat, bulimics indulge in compulsory binge eating. Rather than chancing weight gain, persons with bulimia immediately compensate for their binges by purging the body of food through self-induced vomiting or the use of laxatives and diuretics. This purging leads to additional hunger, and the binge-and-purge cycle repeats.
Signs of bulimia nervosa include:
The most severe consequence of bulimia is the imbalance of electrolytes, which can lead to heart problems and even premature death. Bulimia nervosa may occur alongside other psychological problems such as drug or alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity. Another sign of bulimia is compulsive exercise, where the victim will try to get rid of binged calories through excessive amounts of physical activity, which may put too much stress on the body.
Although bulimia nervosa tends to occur somewhat later than in anorexia patients in late adolescence and early adulthood the gender ratio is similar, with 90 percent of bulimia patients being female. The recovery rate for bulimia is nearly 70 percent, which is much higher than that of anorexia.
Orthorexia nervosa is a fixation on eating only health foods. People who suffer from the disorder develop a mania about achieving a state of bodily purity. An orthorexic carefully monitors the foods he or she eats or drinks. This monitoring may lead to associated compulsive behavior, such as ensuring that food consumed adheres to a rigid schedule of meals planned in advance. The effects of orthorexia are not necessarily life threatening but may become so if the person severely limits their calorie or vitamin intake. Orthorexic eating habits may consequently effect a persons social life, as much of his or her time is spent planning meals.
Binge eating disorder is a recently identified eating disorder that is closely related to bulimia nervosa. In both cases, persons consume excessive amounts of food in one sitting, but unlike those suffering from bulimia, binge eaters do not purge themselves of the calories. Instead, the binger eater may feel excessive shame or guilt at their eating habits, which may cause them to withdraw from social situations. According to the Weight-control Information Network, if binge eating habits go on for long enough, the behavior may lead to substantial medical problems, such as:
Binge eating disorder can be treated through a variety of therapies, including behavioral therapy and medication.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 80 percent of American women are unhappy with their appearance, and nearly half of American women attempt to remedy the situation through dieting. In addition, 40 to 60 percent of high-school-age girls believe that they are fat, and 15 percent of these girls are categorized as chronic dieters. Two-thirds of these compulsive dieters are not actually overweight and the excessive dieting may result in a severe eating disorder or a slew of health problems.
Many factors are thought to contribute to the low self-image that prompts eating disorders. Anorexia is often linked to a lack of control anorexics may feel that they do not have control over certain aspects of their personal lives, and so they seek to impose self-control by not eating. Anorexia is also closely related to perfectionism, as sufferers never believe that they are thin enough. Other factors, such as pervasive advertising, bombard teenagers with images of unattainable beauty, such as those represented by fashion models. Since adolescence is a time imbued with physical changes and social pressures, teenage girls in particular are likely to turn bodily dissatisfaction into an eating disorder.