If your lifestyle is crippled by your food habits or obsession, you may have an eating disorder. While there are a variety of these disorders, all of them hinge on food and control: too little or too much. If you suspect that your food-related anxieties are disordered or unhealthy, here are some questions to ask yourself. Should you answer yes to any or many of the questions, you may wish to consider the treatment options outlined below.
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About eating disorders
There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. While anorexia and bulimia are far more prevalent among women (although not exclusively so), binge-eating is distributed more or less equally between the genders.
Anorexia is characterized by an uncontrollable urge to deprive oneself of food and nutrients, often accompanied by an obsessive desire to be thin. People with anorexia restrict their food intake to a harmful extent and often over-exercise. Eventually, anorexics begin to suffer the effects of their deprivation. In women, anorexia can cause menstrual abnormalities. People with anorexia are thin or extremely thin, have trouble sleeping, and display signs of social anxiety or irritability. They experience hair loss, skin irritations, constipation, body temperature fluctuations, and - in severe cases - heart problems.
Bulimia is defined by the habit of purging by inducing vomiting or using laxatives. It is usually accompanied by binging habits and is often not as visible as anorexia - bulimics may be of normal weight or even slightly overweight. Like anorexia, bulimia is often accompanied by negative body image and excessive exercising. People with bulimia experience digestive troubles, pain in the throat and mouth, damage to teeth and gums from stomach acids, and heart problems.
Binge-eating is an inability to limit food intake. People with this disorder overeat but do not react to their behaviour with excessive exercise or purging. Binge eaters experience a negative feedback loop: they overeat in reaction to stress or emotional pressure, feel guilty about overeating, and then overeat again in reaction to their guilt. They tend to be private eaters who will only overeat when alone.
Treatment of eating disorders
Method and duration of treatment varies widely with the different types and extents of the three disorders. The most common type of treatment for all three is psychological. Therapy - individual or group - can help people with eating disorders to replace their unhealthy urges with sustainable, healthy habits. While medications are not always prescribed, anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds can sometimes help bulimics and binge eaters control their desire to overeat. In extreme cases, people who suffer eating disorders may be hospitalized. This is most often the case for anorexics who refuse to eat and are thus dying of starvation. Anorexics or bulimics who experience heart troubles as a result of their habits also need hospitalization. Sometimes, disordered eating can result in chronic illness or death.
To prevent the types of behaviours that will cause hospitalization or fatality, consult a doctor or psychological therapist as soon as you suspect that you have an eating disorder. Before, during, and after treatment, remain cautious of your relationship with food and monitor your feelings about your weight and appearance.
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