Eating Disorder

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In our everyday lives, we often hear, read or talk about mental health. But what is it that the term actually means? According to the World Health Organization , mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder and is defined as a state of well-being. Being mentally healthy means that you engage in productive activities that help you grow and develop. It means you have fulfilling relationships that make you feel happier, stronger and supported. And most importantly, being mentally healthy means you have the ability to adapt and cope with adversity or stress when it happens.

Although many people the world over are living contented lives in a positive state of mental health, mental disorders are commonly occurring and often seriously impairing a significant proportion of the world’s population.

An eating disorder is an illness characterised by severe and abnormal eating habits, such as eating extremely small amounts of food or severely overeating. Distress about body weight or shape is also a distinguishing feature of eating disorders. Eating disorders can cause serious physical problems and, at their most extreme, can even be life-threatening. They frequently appear during the teen years or early adulthood but may also develop during childhood or later in life

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There are 3 major types of eating disorders:

  • Anorexia nervosa: Individuals with anorexia nervosa have a distorted body image that causes them to see themselves as overweight even when they're dangerously thin. They often restrict their eating to the point of starvation, exercise compulsively, and may develop unusual habits such as refusing to eat in front of others.
  • Bulimia nervosa: Those with bulimia nervosa eat excessive amounts of food, then purge their bodies of the food by vomiting, using laxatives, or over-exercising. Often acting in secrecy, they feel guilty as they binge, yet relieved of those negative emotions once their stomachs are empty again.
  • Binge eating: Like people with bulimia, those with binge eating disorder experience frequent episodes of out-of-control eating. The difference is that binge eaters don't purge their bodies of excess calories.
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Eating disorders don’t only affect your physical health. As mental health problems, they also affect how you feel, behave and interact with others.

Emotional or psychological symptoms include:

  • Thinking and talking a lot about body image, weight and food
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Being sensitive to comments about food, exercise, weight or body shape
  • Feeling depressed or anxious
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviours

Behaviours may include:

  • Excessive dieting or overeating
  • Being very specific about the types and amounts of food you eat
  • Avoiding social situations that involve food
  • Going to the bathroom straight after meals
  • Obsessively and repetitively weighing yourself
  • Wearing loose-fitting clothes to hide weight loss
  • Exercising excessively
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American Psychological Association describes that certain psychological factors and personality traits may predispose people to developing eating disorders. Many people with eating disorders suffer from low self-esteem, feelings of helplessness, and intense dissatisfaction with the way they look. Specific traits are linked to each of the disorders. For example, people with anorexia tend to be perfectionistic, while people with bulimia are usually impulsive.

Life experiences may also trigger eating disorders. This can include being teased repeatedly about your body, or experiencing traumas such as rape or the death of a loved one. 

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Adequate nutrition, reducing excessive exercise, and stopping purging behaviours are the foundations of treatment. While treatment plans are tailored to individual needs, medications as well as specific forms of psychotherapy are effective for many eating disorders. Some people suffering from eating disorders may also need to be hospitalised to treat problems caused by malnutrition or to ensure they eat enough if they are very underweight.

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