In the United States, about 20 million women and 10 million men are or have in some time during their life, had an eating disorder. Eating disorders can affect almost anyone; they are not limited by gender, age or socio-economic status, but they are often preventable. It is important to promote education regarding eating disorders in order to possibly prevent the onset of and/or recognize whether a you or a loved one has an eating disorder.
What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders may include extreme behaviors, emotions and attitudes surrounding food and weight issues. Although it isn’t exactly known what causes eating disorders, many suggest that it is a combination of psychological, biological and sociocultural factors. Eating disorders are complex, serious and even life-threatening diseases that often begin during adolescence. The quicker it is diagnosed and treatment started, the greater the chance is for recovery. An eating disorder is a serious, but treatable disorder. The most common types of eating disorders include:
Anorexia nervosa most frequently begins during adolescence, but older children and adults are also diagnosed with anorexia. This eating disorder is characterized by weight loss; problems maintain appropriate body weight for height and in many people, a distorted body image. People with anorexia typically restrict the type of food and number of calories they eat. Some individuals with anorexia also exercise compulsively.
Bulimia is a drastic, life-threatening eating disorder that is characterized by cycles of binge eating and compensatory behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting, which undoes or compensates for the effects of binge eating.
Binge eating is a extreme and deadly, but completely treatable eating disorder that is characterized by reoccurring episodes of eating extremely large quantities of food, often very quickly. During the binge, there is usually a feeling of loss of control and experiencing shame; the binge is often followed by guilt and may include purging in order to counter the binge eating. This is the most common eating disorder in the United States.
How Eating Disorders Affect the Body
Eating disorders can have an effect on every organ system in your body. It is extremely important to understand the many ways an eating disorder can affect your body. Because muscles are often some of the first organs broken down and your heart is your most important organ, the cardiovascular system is often one of the first and most severely affected systems.
Closely following is an electrolyte imbalance, which frequently occurs as a result of purging by vomiting or laxatives. The electrolyte potassium plays a major role in helping your heart beat and the muscles contract, but purging often leads to depletion of potassium. Electrolyte imbalances can lead to an irregular heartbeat and possibly heart failure and death.
It is extremely important to note that most, if not all eating disorders are preventable and treatable.