Such disorders include a range of conditions that involve an unhealthy and life-threatening obsession related to food, physical appearance and weight. Often developed as a mechanism for coping and harnessing control, they are characterized by extreme disturbances in eating behavior and can include (but are not limited to):
- Anorexia, a life-threatening, self-imposed starvation, in which patients continually deny hunger and food;
- Bulimia, which involves ridding the body of food immediately after consuming large, uncontrollable portions; and
- Binge eating, which sees patients frequently exhibit episodes of consuming abnormally large amounts of food, whether they are hungry or not.
While specific genetic indicators for eating disorders are not yet identified, certain traits such as stress management patterns and perfectionist tendencies reflect vulnerability to developing an eating disorder. Often, an eating disorder will lie dormant until triggered by social or cultural factors, which may include:
- An extreme emphasis on slenderness as the ideal for physical beauty.
- The role of the media in perpetuating this ideal.
- Negative social connotations connected to large body sizes and obesity.
There are also inter-locking mental health issues associated with eating disorders. For example, an eating disorder patient may also show signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder as part of a strategy for controlling his/her life. Patients often suffer the a burdens of depressiond and anxiety, particularly when they have suffered severe emotional trauma.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses – more dangerous than major depression and even schizophrenia. People who suffer from eating disorders need treatment. By the time family or friends notice adverse behaviours surrounding eating, it is often too late to right itself without seeking medical intervention. Once unhealthy routines and behaviors have been recognized, the patient needs immediate professional attention.
Because eating disorders involve a complex combination of physical, mental and emotional symptoms, it is vital that you choose a treatment program designed and run by health professionals who recognize that each patient needs an intervention that will address all these needs.