Eating disorders

People who suffer from eating disorders have an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of their weight and body shape. They believe themselves to be fat even when their weight is so low that their health is in danger. An anorexic severely restricts food intakes, and usually becomes extremely thin. The bulimic on the other hand eats excessively, followed by compensatory behaviour of physically eliminating the food by throwing up or using laxatives, right after her food cravings are satisfied. Eating disorders develop during adolescence or early adulthood, but can also occur during childhood and late adulthood. Researchers estimate that more than 90 percent of cases of eating disorder are diagnosed in females, while many cases in males go unreported.

What are the causes of eating disorders?

Most researchers agree that one of the most important causes of eating disorders is societal, media, family and peer pressure. There is the Western society pressure for women to be thin, which has been relayed to Africans and the rest of the world.  In addition, media images and hype about very thin models and actors cause many people to develop unrealistic expectations for their bodies.  Anxiety or depression due to physical, sexual and emotional abuse or loss of a loved  one can also contribute to the development of the illness.

 Behavioural and psychological symptoms of eating disorders?

Both victims of anorexia and bulimia feel depressed and irritable. They lack self-esteem and sexual interest, have very strong need for control. They may have difficulty expressing themselves and may withdraw from loved ones. 50 percent to 75 percent of anorexics develop other mental illness like depression and anxiety (a feeling of uneasiness, apprehension, or fear about events they cannot control or predict, or about events that seem threatening or dangerous).

Like most of these celebrities, people with eating disorders usually deny that they have a problem. Jessica Alba never thought her “normal” exercise routine was excessive. Victoria Posh (Beckham) did not see anything wrong in her supposed “healthy” diet. They do not see low weight as a health risk or symptom of a psychological problem. They believe that dieting and losing weight is logical because they perceive themselves to be fat. Many of them feel pride in their ability to adhere to their strict diet and exercise routine.

What medical effects does anorexia or bulimia have on the sufferer?

In females, cessation of menstruation (amenorrhea) and the absence of ovulation occur. Menstruation usually will not resume until endocrine balance is restored. Ovulation is suppressed because production of certain necessary hormones decreased. Other effects include fatigue and muscle weakness, brittle hair, hair loss, trouble staying warm, dry skin, kidney and gastrointestinal changes, fragile bones that are prone to fracture (osteoporosis), slow heartbeat, low blood pressure and heart palpitations. A bulimic experiences erosion of tooth enamel; because of repeated exposure to acidic gastric contents of their vomits, stomach ulcer, dental cavities, difficulties swallowing and retaining foods, frequent weight fluctuations,  Swelling and soreness in the salivary glands (from repeated vomiting), abnormal build-up of fluid in the intestines, suicidal tendencies.

These changes can cause dizziness,   abnormal heart rhythms and sudden death.  Yes, popular celebrities have lost their lives to either bulimia or anorexia. Brazilian model. Ana Carolina Reston, who weighed 44kg, died at the age of 21, because of generalized infection as a result of anorexia.  Singer, Karen Carpenter died at the age of 32 from cardiac arrest due to anorexia, and the list is endless.

Is there still hope for a healthier tomorrow for victims?

Yes, there is hope, though it is difficult to treat eating disorders. This is because as mentioned earlier, many patients deny they have a problem and as a result, resist treatments. Some are scared and reject treatments that would involve weight gain. Recovery from the disorder is a long and uncertain process; however, a willing patient needs the help of dieticians, psychiatrics or psychological counsellors to obtain treatments.

Are there ways to prevent eating disorders?

Little is known about preventing eating disorders, but as a parent, catch them young and emphasize to your children the need to embrace and place premium on happiness, health, and virtue. While they are still toddlers, help them develop sources of self esteem that are based on these qualities other than physical appearance and promote acceptance of natural diversity of body types. Do supervise their exposure to the media while you still can.



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