Eating disorders are a group of mental disorders that interfere with normal food consumption. They may lead to serious health problems and, in the case of both bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa, even death. The major recognized eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and rumination. Other mental disorders, such as clinical depression or anxiety can also disturb eating patterns, but these disorders are not considered eating disorders. In these cases, the change in eating behaviour is not considered a central feature of the disorder.
An eating disorder is a serious psychological condition. The sufferer is obsessed with food, diet and often body image to the point where their quality of life suffers, and their health is at extreme risk from their long-term poor or inadequate diet. Most victims of an eating disorder do not recognize that they have a problem and they will refuse treatment and attempt to hide their abnormal behaviour from others. Treatment of eating disorders can take decades, so early identification may be the difference between life and death for the patient.
The two major types of eating disorder which will be the most familiar to many are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia. Large amounts of food are consumed at a sitting but retained in the stomach rather than being regurgitated. Some experts consider a complaint called orthorexia to be a valid eating disorder - the sufferer is overly obsessed with the consumption of what they see as the 'right' foods for them (vegan, raw foods, etc), to the point where their nutrition and quality of life suffers. Some people have food phobias about what they can and can't eat, which may also be a form of eating disorder. Another disorder which is somewhat qualitatively different from the foregoing is pica, or the habitual ingestion of inedibles, such as dirt, wood, hair, etc. This has been scientifically proven by numerous university-level studies.
There are many different degrees of anorexia and bulimia. Anorexia may be mild, where a person may eat but only allow themselves certain foods, or severe to the point of literally starving themselves to the point of death. There are other forms of purging besides vomiting- compulsive exercise, laxatives, and enemas being the other main ones. Other sufferers also allow themselves a small variety of foods and exercise compulsively, being categorized as eating disorder not otherwise specified. Three-fourths of patients fall into this category and their symptoms may be more severe and life threatening than those suffering from anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder.
Anyone can have an Eating Disorder, but it most often occurs with young teens because they are the most at risk, due to their extreme exposure to the media. Teens feelings of need to conform to an idea of beauty that the media projects can be too much for some to deal with and can force them to take drastic measures to change their appearance.
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