Eating Disorders: A Deadly Diet
Eating disorders, such as Anorexia, Bulimia, and compulsive overeating, are serious, chronic and potentially life-threatening illnesses. The illnesses wreak havoc on a person’s emotional and physical well-being. While recovery is possible with professional help, many eating disorder victims suffer in silence. Embarrassment, shame, lack of knowledge and fear prevent many from seeking the help they so desperately need. Eating disorder sufferers and their families tend to minimize and deny the illness, further preventing timely and effective intervention.
Eating disorders are a growing problem, particularly among young women. While men sometimes are affected by eating disorders, the disease is much more common among women. It is estimated that after puberty, five to ten percent of women will become afflicted with an eating disorder. Without help, most will develop serious psychological and physical damage. Many will die.
For reasons we do not completely understand, victims of eating disorders develop dangerously unhealthy attitudes and habits with respect to eating, body image and a desire to be thin. They become totally preoccupied with food and losing weight. Unlike the typical dieter, whose goal is to achieve a normal body weight, a person with an eating disorder never feels thin enough.
Anorexia is an eating disorder in which a person starves him or herself, and continues this practice even after excessive weight loss. A hallmark feature of anorexia is that the anorexic continues to see herself as overweight, and continues starving herself, even when her weight has dropped to a life-threatening low. The anorexic will stop eating until she literally starves herself to death.
Anorexics have a distorted sense of a “normal” body weight and shape. In fact, when shown photographs of Nazi concentration camp survivors who were at the brink of death at the time of their liberation by the Allies, anorexics will evaluate the survivors as being “fat.” The anorexic will never be satisfied with her weight loss, nor achieve her goal of “perfect thinness.” Her warped sense of reality and obsession with never-ending weight loss, will ultimately result in permanent damage to her health, or death.
Bulimia is another eating disorder. Like the anorexic, the bulimic also practices self-starvation. Unlike the anorexic, however, the bulimic will mix periods of starvation with episodes of extreme overeating. During an overeating “binge,” the bulimic will consume dangerously large amounts of food in one meal. A bulimic might eat the entire contents of her pantry and refrigerator, for example, until she makes herself ill. Following an eating binge, the bulimic often attempts rapid weight loss through “purging,” in which she make herself vomit after meals, or abusing laxatives, over-the-counter diet aids or amphetamines (speed). Both anorexics and bulimics tend to become obsessed with exercise. They may devote hours upon hours each day to an excessive and unhealthy exercise regimen.
Eating Disorders Are Addictive
Eating disorder sufferers have lost their ability to control their eating habits. Eating disorders often are compared to other addictive illnesses, such as alcoholism and drug abuse. Similar to the alcoholic who cannot stop drinking, the anorexic or bulimic cannot stop the cycle of dieting, over-exercising and self-starvation. And like the addict, the eating disorder victim continues these debilitating behaviors despite serious, negative and potentially deadly consequences.
Cause of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are a complex illness; the exact causes are not yet fully understood.
Eating disorders can be thought of as a maladaptive way of coping with depression and stress. Instead of focusing on resolving problems in their lives, sufferers tend to focus on food and controlling their weight. Their preoccupation with and control over what they eat consumes their time, effort and energy. Eating disorders are a cry for help. Many sufferers report hoping someone will notice their problem, and insist they seek help.
Eating disorder sufferers often have problems with low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, have trouble expressing their feelings and feel out of control in their personal lives. While some sufferers come from troubled families in which they were subjected to emotional, physical or sexual abuse, others grew up in supportive family environments. In childhood, eating disorder sufferers typically felt criticized for being overweight. They tended to be highly sensitive to comments about their weight and appearance. They may have felt familial, peer and societal pressure to achieve a perfect, “model’s figure.”
Medical science increasingly is helping to answer some of our questions about eating disorders. We are learning that eating disorders are psychological and biological illnesses. We know, for example, that low levels of certain brain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, play a key role in these illnesses. These findings are helping us perfect medication to treat eating disorders. Certain antidepressant medications, for example, have been shown to be effective in correcting chemical imbalances that contribute to eating disorders. When medication treatments are combined with psychotherapy, many eating disorder victims are now becoming eating disorder survivors.
If you or someone you care about needs help with an eating disorder, call the Bricklayer’s Member Assistance Program (MAP) at 1-888-880-8222 to speak privately to MAP’s licensed mental health professionals. All calls are strictly confidential.