Eating disorders are a group of conditions involving extreme concern about body weight or shape, poor self-perception and low self-esteem. In people with eating disorders the symptoms will include an obsession with food – calorie counting, portion control and strict diets – as well as exercise – how many calories you burn, what you can eat after a workout and how much you weigh.
Dieting and intense exercise can become dangerous as all of your mental and physical energy is directed towards losing weight (despite the fact that anorexia and bulimia sufferers may be underweight). Anorexia nervosa is a condition in which a person starves themselves intentionally, purges with laxatives, diuretics, vomiting or excessive exercise and they are abnormally obsessional about their weight. Bulimia nervosa is a condition in which a person feels out of control around food and then they feel the need to compensate for eating by purging (vomiting) or using laxatives. Some people with bulimia do not, however, have major weight problems.
People with the binge eating disorder will eat a larger amount of food than most people would in a similar time and situation (for some this might be up to several thousand calories) and they will also feel unable to control their eating.
They often eat quickly and when they are alone because they are embarrassed by how much they eat or because they feel guilty about eating.
Groups of people most at risk of developing an eating disorder include the following:
• Teenagers and young adults – especially women • People with a family history of eating disorders • Women in high achieving groups, such as dancers, gymnasts and athletes who need a low body weight
People may show signs of an eating disorder from the age of eight years old. However, it is usually not until their teenage or early adulthood years that they realize there is a problem and seek help. In some cases this can lead to severe problems as young people often struggle with family members who are opposed to them seeking treatment.
About 1.25 million Americans (two percent) will develop an eating disorder at some time in their life according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). This is the leading cause of mental illness related deaths and it is estimated that up to 20 percent of sufferers will die prematurely, typically due to heart problems or suicide. Women are more likely to develop an eating disorder than men (90 percent of sufferers are women) and it is estimated that between three percent and five percent of people who have eating disorders are men.
Eating disorders can affect all types of people, no matter their age, race or wealth. However, sufferers will often try to hide the fact that they have an eating disorder for fear of being judged.
Statistics show that the least amount of people get treatment for their eating disorder (about one in five) even though many sufferers recover fully if treated effectively and promptly. Typically, approximately 50 percent will recover after three to five years if left untreated but up to 20 percent will relapse over longer periods of time.
Eating disorders are life-threatening, but it is possible to recover from them with treatment and support. About 90 percent of people get better over the long term with treatment (although some may relapse). People who have eating disorders often do not realize that they need help until their condition has reached an advanced stage or caused significant damage.