Eating disorders are often described as an outward expression of internal emotional pain and confusion. Obsessive thoughts about, and the behavior associated with, foods are maladaptive means of dealing with emotional distress which cannot be expressed in any other satisfactory way. The emotional distress is often associated with a negative perception of self, a feeling of being unable to change "bad" things about oneself: food is used as an inappropriate way of taking control.
Perhaps due to cultural ideas of what constitutes perfection, people often feel a strong desire to be thinner than their bodies naturally tend to be - "when I am thin everything will be alright". They confuse who they are with what they look like. As a result, they change their eating patterns and may, as a consequence, be at risk for developing an eating disorder.
An eating disorder involves a distorted pattern of thinking about food and size/weight: there is a preoccupation and obsession with food, as well as an issue of control or lack of control around food and its consumption.
There are several recognized eating disorders which can be described as follows:
People with anorexic starve themselves with the aim of losing weight to a point that others would consider to be very thin (although sufferers are unlikely to perceive themselves as such). The longer the condition continues, the more difficult it can be to tackle, and in severe cases can necessitate hospitalization and can even prove fatal. Sufferers are typically in their teens or twenties and most are women, although approximately 10% are male. Symptoms include the following:
- distorted perceptions of one's weight, size and shape
- behavior which results in a marked weight loss
- a morbid fear of gaining weight or becoming fat
- excessive exercising (while starving)
- cessation of menstruation in women.
People with Bulimia may well maintain their normal weight; however, the condition is characterized by the following:
- bouts of eating excessive amounts of food followed by purging
- a distorted perception of own weight, size and shape
- a powerful urge to overeat, leading to binge eating and a resultant feeling of being out of control
- compensatory behavior such as self-induced vomiting; misuse of laxatives, diuretics or other medication; fasting; and/or excessive exercise
- a morbid fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.
BINGE EATING DISORDER
- recurrent episodes of binge eating and consequent feeling of being out of control
- marked distress about binge eating and the attempts to control it
- during a binge individuals may: eat more quickly than normal, eat until uncomfortably over-full, eat large amounts when not hungry, tend to "graze" rather than eat meals, eat alone in secret, feel disgusted and guilty with oneself.
- weight-loss accomplished primarily through extreme dieting, fasting or excessive exercise
Other, but related difficulties with food include:
- anorexic behavior though still menstruating
- anorexic behavior where, despite significant weight loss, current weight is still normal
- someone of normal weight inducing vomiting or purging after small amounts of food
- chewing and spitting food rather than swallowing