Eating Disorders are conditions defined by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of an individual’s physical and mental health. Bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and binge-eating disorder are the most common specific forms of eating disorders.
Eating disorders can cause serious physical problems and they can even be life-threatening. Most commonly they appear during the teen years or young adulthood but may also develop during childhood or later in life.
Anorexia nervosa is characterized by abnormal eating behavior, an obsession with food and being thin, sometimes to the point of deadly self-starvation. A person with Anorexia has an intense fear of gaining weight, a distorted body image, a self-esteem that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape, or a denial of the seriousness of low body weight. Even if a patient is underweight he sees himself as overweight. Moreover, the disease is characterized by a refusal to eat and denial of hunger, excessive exercise and a fear of eating in public.
Physical consequences of Anorexia nervosa could include the thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis), brittle hair and nails, dry and yellowish skin, growth of fine hair all over the body (lanugo), low blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse, damage to the structure and function of the heart, brain damage, multiorgan failure and infertility.
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by episodes of eating large amounts of food in a short duration followed by forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors. People with this disease may be at a normal weight or even a bit overweight, although they often fear gaining weight, desperately want to lose weight and intensely are unhappy with their body size and shape.
Physical consequences of Bulimia nervosa could include a chronically inflamed and sore throat, swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area, abnormal bowel functioning, damaged teeth and gums, irregular heartbeat, menstrual irregularities or loss of menstruation and an electrolyte imbalance which can lead to heart attack.
People with Binge-eating disorder lose control over eating. They eat excessive amounts of food (binge), but unlike Anorexia and Bulimia they don’t try to compensate for this behavior with exercise, fasting or purging. Binge-eating disorder is characterized by eating to the point of discomfort or pain, eating faster and frequently eating alone.
As a result, people with binge-eating disorder often are over-weight or obese. They are at a higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Moreover, people with this disease often feel depressed, disgusted or upset over the amount eaten. They experience guilt, shame, and distress about their binge-eating, which can lead to more binge-eating.
The causes for eating disorders are manifold. Possible causes include biological reasons, psychological and mental health and society. There may be genes that make certain people more vulnerable to developing eating disorders. People with these disorders may have psychological and emotional problems such as a low self-esteem that contribute to the disorder. Moreover, society often cultivates a desire for thinness, especially in the modern Western culture.
Psychotherapy, nutrition education and medication are effective treatment methods for eating disorders. An individual, group or family psychotherapy helps the patient to learn how to exchange unhealthy habits for healthy ones. The main focus of the treatment is to restore the person to healthy weight, treating the psychological issues related to the eating disorder and to reduce or eliminate behaviors or thoughts that lead to insufficient eating and preventing relapse. Cognitive behavioral therapy is commonly used in eating disorder treatment, especially for bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.
Eating disorders can’t be cured by medications but they may help to control urges to binge or purge or to manage excessive preoccupations with food and diet. Since eating disorders often occur along with depression and anxiety medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety and mood stabilizers may also help with these symptoms.
Knowing from long years of experience that neurological or psychiatric illnesses are very often considered to be better not mentioned or talked about, we would nonetheless like to introduce you briefly to the world of neurology and psychiatry. There are no other medical sciences that have achieved more progress and improvement over the past decades than these. Especially the “Decade of the brain” led to a definite change for the better in diagnostics and therapies. Today we can offer a wide range of modern diagnostic and therapeutic possibilities for nearly all psychiatric and neurological disorders. Yet, when it comes to neurological deficits or mental illness there are still many prejudices and unnecessary fears prevalent.
Whereas usually everybody accepts the fact that illness is normal and happens to everyone from time to time, normal illnesses are most often considered to be solely physical such as a broken leg, colds, diarrhoea or similar. Diabetes mellitus is as normal an illness as is backache or headache.
Illnesses of the brain, the psyche or neurological deficiencies are also as normal as any other illnesses and moreover, they are not only very common but on the increase. Their patterns may sometimes be worrying or frightening but this is largely due to a huge lack of information in general public.
According to the study “The Global Burden of disease” carried out by the WHO (World Health Organization) depression for instance is the most important disease of all, more important even than diseases of the heart, asthma or cancer. And yet, the majority of people suffering from depression do not seek professional help or are not treated sufficiently. We should therefore not only like to contribute to health education but we offer practical help and assistance to everyone suffering from or fearing psychiatric and/or neurological disorders.