Eating disorders are psychiatric conditions characterised by pathological behaviour towards food and are associated with serious complications in mental and physical health. The aetiology is multifactorial, which is to say no single factor, such as genes or problems in the family, or interpersonal relationships, is responsible for the onset of the disorder.
Depending on the type of disorder, there may be excessively limited food intake leading to significant weight loss and emaciation, or excessive food intake, with or without vomiting. Obsessions over body shape and weight and excessive fear of weight gain are at the core of eating disorders.
Eating disorders most frequently affect teenage girls and young women and are often accompanied by personality disorders, anxiety and fears, emotional and mood disorders such as depression, impulsive behaviour, and social problems.
- This is a form of voluntary limitation of food intake, leading to significant weight loss and emaciation, and may be accompanied by deliberate intense exercise, self-induced vomiting, or laxative/diuretic abuse. .
- This entails episodes of excessive food consumption, with loss of self-control during the episodes, leading to discomfort and is accompanied by self-induced vomiting. It may also be accompanied by laxative abuse, intense physical exercise and periods of intense fasting.
Episodic hyperphagia – binge eating disorder
- This entails episodes of excessive food consumption, with loss of self-control during the episodes, leading to discomfort, and feelings of shame, guilt and low self-esteem. Self-induced vomiting is totally absent or rare.
What do I need to know?
Eating disorders are mental conditions and not "strange behaviours adolescents engage in", nor are they "healthy diet options" or "attempts to acquire a model’s body".
Individuals with eating disorders, usually girls, have not opted to have this problem and cannot overcome it without help. Commonly, certain situations trigger the onset of the disorder, such as erotic frustration, or insulting words about their body weight from a family member or one of their group of friends. However, once an eating disorder starts, it becomes a mental illness which profoundly affects both the sufferer and the family and can even lead to death.
What do I need to pay attention to?
If you notice that you or someone else has any symptom that may indicate an eating disorder, then you should contact an expert with experience in such disorders so that the problem can be dealt with in time.
Early diagnosis and management leads to very good results. On the contrary, delay in diagnosis is associated with high rates of treatment failure and high mortality.
Consider the possible presence of an eating disorder in you or another person if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Excessive and sudden weight loss (even among those who are overweight)..
- Obsessive and excessive concern about weight..
- Incorrect perceptions about body shape and weight (“I've put on a lot of fat and I see myself as overweight”, whereas in reality the view of others and scales show the opposite)..
- Avoiding eating food in front of people..
- Consuming excessively small (anorexia) or excessively large (bulimia) amounts of food..
- Visiting the toilet after eating (possibly to induce vomiting)..
- Excessive exercise (e.g. multiple hours of walking, or long times spent at the gym)..