We live in a fattist society where the ever increasing pressure to conform to a certain physical ideal and a rise in mental health problems has made eating disorders very much a part of modern society in the west. Contrary to popular opinion people with eating disorders are not always obscenely thin; in fact they are in the minority. Eating disorders sufferer’s come in all shapes and sizes, whether they suffer from anorexia, bulimia,binge eating disorder or EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). For example a ‘supposedly’ recovered anorexic may be of normal weight, or obese, but still have an anorexic mind tormenting them from dawn until dusk. Smythe et al (2007) found that in a group of adult patients over the age of 18 they had Body Mass Indices (BMI) ranging from very underweight (16) to severely obese (47.2). Generally a healthy BMI is considered to fall withing 18.5 and 24.9. People are not always what they seem and BMI is often not as useful as it might seem; for example a rugby player may carry so much muscle mass that they have a BMI which is registered as obese even though they are very lean and have a low body mass percentage.
Eating disorders are largely nonsensical; why would someone deprive themselves of something essential to life? Well that is the point, even in the cases where it starts as a diet, it is not a choice; it is the physical manifestation of intense internal pain. A suffering so intense that a pain that can be physically felt in the body is easier to manage and preferable, even when the diseases is so severe that death is a real risk. It is an addiction to the rejection or massive over consumption of the nourishment needed to survive. While an alcoholic or drug addict can go ‘cold turkey’ and have the chance to leave their addictions behind this is not possible for an eating disorder sufferer. They have to face their addiction head on and build a healthy balanced relationship with food to stay alive; this makes moving on very hard and contributes to the frequent relapses and high mortality rate seen in eating disorders.
Bulimia, if anything is more of a silent killer than purely restrictive forms of anorexia. By eating and then rejecting a person suffering from it may appear to be at a healthy weight or even overweight; their illness is easier to hide than the skeletal frame of extreme anorexia. Smythe et al (2007) studied a group of 133 women who fitted the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV criteria for bulimia and found that they had an average (mean) BMI of 23.2, with patients being between 18 and 55 years old. No women under the age of 18 were included in the study.
Regular purging does a huge amount of damage to the body. Stomach acid destroys esophageal, throat and upper digestive tract tissue as well as eating away at teeth. In its extreme, death can result from stomach or esophageal rupture and sufferers may lose some or all of their teeth as a result of the damage caused by stomach acid after frequent, long term vomiting.
Numerous health problems can result from chronic eating disorders including but not limited to the following:
– hair loss
- Loss of periods or hemorrhagic periods (rarer)
- Brittle bones, which can in severe cases result in extensive osteoporosis
- Dental problems
- Dry, flaking skin
- Organ damage
- Problems with concentration and memory
- Reduced heart rate
- Irregular heart rate (arrhythmia)
- Extreme cold
- The growth of fine hair (lanugo) on the body to keep warm
Different patients will experience different symptoms and to varying degrees.
Despite the common media image eating disorders are not confined to women, there is an ever increasing number of male sufferers.
Eating disorders are often linked to anxiety disorders
Vincent L.,2012: The Myth of an Obesity Epidemic, News24 published April 21 2012
Smythe J.M., et al, 2007: Daily and momentary mood and stress are associated with binge eating and vomiting in bulimia nervosa patients in the natural environment, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75(4)
Posts discussing anorexia and eating disorders