Our society praises the super thin and often unattainable figures in magazines and on television. While almost everyone worries about their figures or weight at some point in their life, with young girls possibly being the most affected, it is when these worries get to an extreme level, causing abnormal eating habits that are unhealthy and even life-threatening at times, that a problem develops. When this happens, the issue can progress into an eating disorder, which is considered a mental illness.
The American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-V lists three main types of eating disorders: bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. It also lists a fourth category for all symptoms that don’t fall into one of those three categories called an “eating disorder not otherwise specified,” or EDNOS. Research varies on exactly how many people in America suffer from eating disorders. The disorders can be hard to pinpoint, and a large percentage of those afflicted go untreated. On top of that, the American Journal of Psychiatry
published that those suffering from eating disorders also suffer from depression about half of the time. Co-occurring disorders like this can make diagnosis and treatment more difficult. The South Carolina Department of Health estimates that around 8 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder while the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders speculate that these numbers may be closer to 24 million. All sources point to more women than men having an eating disorder, although men are indeed affected as well. Eating disorders span culture, age, and gender lines. Out of all mental health disorders, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate and are not to be taken lightly, as they can seriously affect both physical and mental health.
Binge Eating Disorder
A loss of control over eating, including eating when not hungry or out of guilt or shame without any attempt to purge, may indicate a binge eating disorder. Those suffering from binge eating disorder are often obese or overweight and may suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, gall bladder disease, or musculoskeletal problems as a result. People suffering from binge eating disorder may also suffer from depression and intense distress over their lack of control over their eating patterns.
People suffering from anorexia nervosa typically have a distorted body image and often see themselves as overweight no matter how thin they actually are. Diet, portion control, food, weight control, and eating being primary obsessions. Those suffering are unable to keep their weight within 15 percent of what is considered an ideal body weight, or IBW, for their frames. Other symptoms include:
- Emaciation or a body weight that is too low
- Extreme fear of weight gain
- Denial of the seriousness of their weight and disorder
- Inability to maintain a healthy weight
- Restricted diet, refusal to eat in front of others, or severe portion control
- Lack of menstruation in girls and women
The fourth category in the DSM-V is called “eating disorder not specified,” commonly known as EDNOS. This category covers those with issues related to eating who don’t meet the criteria for any of the other three major eating disorders. Included in this category are:
EDNOS also includes versions of the main three eating disorders that present with fewer or slightly different symptoms. As a result, they don’t meet the criteria for bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder, but they still cause impairment and distress in everyday life.
Like many other mental health disorders, most scientists agree that eating disorders are caused by a combination of environmental, biochemistry, genetics, and social factors. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that people are 10 times more likely to develop an eating disorder if their close relative had anorexia nervosa, indicating a strong genetic link. Certain traits or behaviors may be precursors for eating disorders as well. For example, stressful events and a dysfunctional hormonal response to them may indicate a predisposition for developing an eating disorder. Social circumstances, including sports, modeling, or other venues focusing on body image and weight control, may play a role as well. Additional mental health disorders and substance abuse tend to go hand in hand with eating disorders, and it is unclear if one causes the other or if they just exacerbate each other.