Lookout Mountain Community Services Dedicated to health, healing, and recovery

Eating Disorders

What are eating disorders?

An individual with an eating disorder can be under weight, normal weight or overweight. Most individuals with eating disorders are very concerned about appearing over weight and physically unattractive and have thoughts and emotions related to their body image which leads to extreme changes in their eating or exercising habits. Eating disorders are just not about weight and appearance but are potentially life-threatening mental disorders. Eating disorders frequently appear during the teen years but also may develop later in life. Common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and eating disorder not otherwise specified.

Anorexia Nervosa: Many people with anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight, even when they are clearly underweight. Eating, food, and weight control become obsessions. Individuals with anorexia nervosa typically weigh themselves repeatedly, portion food carefully, and eat very small amounts of only certain foods. Some people with anorexia nervosa may also engage in binge-eating followed by extreme dieting, excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting, and misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.

Other symptoms may develop include:

  • Thinning of the bones and brittle hair and nails
  • Dry and yellowish skin  with a growth of fine hair all over the body
  • Low blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse
  • Damage to the structure and function of the heart
  • Brain damage 
  • Drop in internal body temperature, causing a person to feel cold all the time
  • Infertility

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over these episodes. This binge-eating is followed by behavior that makes up for the overeating such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors.
Unlike anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia nervosa usually maintain what is considered a healthy or normal weight, while some are slightly overweight. But like people with anorexia nervosa, individuals often fear gaining weight, want desperately to lose weight, and are intensely unhappy with their body size and shape. Usually, bulimic behavior is done secretly because it is often accompanied by feelings of disgust or shame. The binge-eating and purging cycle happens anywhere from several times a week to many times a day.

Other symptoms may develop include:

  • Chronically inflamed and sore throat
  • Swollen  glands in the neck and jaw area
  • Worn tooth enamel, and decaying teeth as a result of exposure to stomach acid
  • Acid reflux disorder and other gastrointestinal problems
  • Severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance which can lead to a heart attack

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified is used for individuals who meet some but not all the symptoms of either anorexia or bulimia nervosa and their attitude toward food and body weight is interfering with their life.

What causes eating disorders?

There is no single cause, however a variety of biological, psychological and social factors such as : conflict at home, sexual abuse, history of dieting, critical comments about weight, low self esteem, perfectionism or occupational pressure may increase an individual’s risk of developing an eating disorder.

How are eating disorder treated?

Proper nutrition, reducing excessive exercise, and stop-ping purging behaviors are the foundations of treatment. Specific forms of individual, group and family therapy and medication are effective for many eating disorders.  Treatment plans often are tailored to individual needs. Some individuals may require hospitalization to treat problems caused by malnutrition and being underweight.

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