Eating Disorders Researchers study eating disorders to try to understand the disorders and their many complexities. "Eating disorders are complicated psychiatric illnesses in which food is used to deal with unsettling emotions and difficult life issues" (Michel & Willard, 2003, p. 2). To help those with eating disorders, one must understand the causes, effects and treatments associated with the disorders. Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Compulsive Overeating are three common eating disorders found in society today. "No one knows exactly what causes eating disorders.

However, all socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural groups are at risk" (Matthews, 2001, p. 3). Eating disorders are difficult to diagnose but can be deadly if left untreated. Background The Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness (n. d. ) observes, Eating disorders affect five to ten million Americans adolescent girls and women and approximately one million American boys and men.

In addition, approximately 70 million individuals in the world struggle with this disorder. In a single person's lifetime, approximately 450, 000 individuals will die because of this terrifying disease. Eating disorders know no race, age, class or gender. They can happen to anyone.

Eating disorders have been present in children as young as three years old and in adults as old as ninety. However, typical age of onset is anywhere from 12-18 years of age. Eating disorders often develop in adolescence because it is a time of numerous changes including sexual, physical, and emotional ones. Rachel Bryant-Waugh and Bryan Lask (2004) conclude that with adolescent changes, weight fluctuations often occur and many individuals may not feel ready to handle the differences (p. 38). The inability to deal with change during this time often leads to anorexia, bulimia, or compulsive overeating.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (2003) states, "People with anorexia starve themselves, avoid high-calorie foods and exercise constantly." The person suffering from anorexia is abnormally sensitive about being fat or has a massive fear of becoming fat. Low self esteem and a constant need for acceptance commonly is seen in anorexics. Michel and Willard (2003) contend the most prevalent characteristic with this disorder is reduced calorie intake. The initial need to lose just a few pounds is somewhere forgotten and the cycle of the disorder takes over. Anorexics will often starve themselves to just 60 or 70 pounds.

This starvation and reduced calorie intake is also compounded by excessive exercise and the use of diet pills or laxatives (pp. 5-6). Anorexics will deny hunger and make excuses to avoid eating or will often hide food they claim to have eaten. "Most people who diet stop when their goal is reached. Anorexics will not stop dieting" (Kirkpatrick and Caldwell, 2001, p.

21). Bulimia is an eating disorder that differs from anorexia in that sufferers continually binge and then purge themselves afterwards. Most often, large amounts of food are eaten very rapidly and the consumption takes place secretly (Levine and Maine, 2004). Sufferers of bulimia binge and purge for various reasons. For some, binging and purging occurs to let out feelings of anger, depression, stress or anxiety. For others the binge / purge syndrome occurs in response to overwhelming hunger brought on by dieting.

Once the bulimic sees they can eat more food than they even want and not gain weight, they become a victim of the cycle of binging and purging (Michel and Willard, 2003, p. 13). In many ways, compulsive overeating resembles bulimia, but the compulsive overeater tends not to purge. Most compulsive overeater's have tried many diets without success. They avoid social and physical activities because of embarrassment about weight and size.

Matthews (2001) asserts compulsive overeater's, like bulimics, use food to cope with emotional distress. Body weight varies in compulsive overeater's from normal body weight to severe obesity (p. 78). Causes Experts in the field of psychiatry try to develop theories, sometimes called theoretical models, to explain why a disorder occurs. These models help researchers better understand the disorder, gain insight into who might be at risk to develop a disorder, and examine what might reduce the risk. In the case of eating disorders, research has centered on three major theoretical models: the psycho dynamic, the sociocultural and the biological (Simon-Kumar, 2001).

The psycho dynamic model suggests that some abnormality in childhood that is psychologically based leads one to develop bizarre eating behaviors to mask, control, or repress situations (Michel & Willard, 2003, p. 32). Another aspect of the psycho dynamic theory suggests that dysfunctional family interaction is the cause of the disorder. The sociocultural model attributes the development of eating disorders to the pressures of our culture and society on young women (Simon-Kumar, 2001). The media and society as a whole puts such great emphasis on thinness that some young people experience anxiety related to it.

Michel and Willard (2003) note peer approval and appearances are great concerns during adolescence. Many girls fall into abnormal eating behaviors in a misguided effort to attain some unrealistic weight (p. 36). The biological model focuses mainly on brain chemicals ranging from an imbalance of hormones to the malfunction of serotonin in the brain (Simon-Kumar 2001). Many researchers tend to combine the three models to form a combination theory. They believe that when various aspects of each theory are put together, this progressively triggers the development of an eating disorder.

From these theories, researchers have been able to determine certain individual traits that may serve to predispose or increase the chance of one developing an eating disorder. In relation to the theoretical models, these predisposing traits or factors include individual characteristics and sociocultural factors. Kirkpatrick and Caldwell (2001) state, "Quite consistently, low self esteem emerges as a powerful (sometimes overwhelming) perception among those with eating disorders" (p. 100). Sufferers have a very poor opinion of who they are or how they look, so they try to change their appearance. This is easily manifested through an eating disorder.

Those with eating disorders try to please others and win their praise because they are not able to praise themselves. Another individual trait that serves to predispose one to an eating disorder is the need for perfection. This is especially true with regards to looks and achievement. Sufferers of eating disorders try harder and harder to reach their goals. When goals are not met, the negativity that perpetuates the disorder cycle is reinforced because total perfection is unattainable (Kirkpatrick and Caldwell 2001, p. 102).

Weight obsession in society today also predisposes one to develop an eating disorder. The Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Association (ANAB) (n. d. ) asserts the media puts forth the belief that thin women." ... will be happier, more sophisticated, better at their careers, and generally lead a better life.

Society clearly communicates the most important role for women is to look attractive and the media reinforces this statement." Young adolescent girls buy into this sensation and through doing so, set themselves up for failure. When these predisposing factors are combined with stressor's and pressures, the cycle is begun and an eating disorder is formed. Effects The altered eating and exercise patterns of those with eating disorders can seriously damage physical and emotional health. The ANAB (n.

d. ) contends activities associated with eating disorders place one in medical danger. Strenuous over-exercising is often seen in those with eating disorders even though they may be quite ill. The body of an eating disorder sufferer frequently has electrolyte imbalances and gastrointestinal problems.

The vomiting seen in bulimics is a key contributor to these problems. With vomiting, key electrolytes are lost which can lead to fatigue, muscle spasms, and irregular heartbeats (ANAB (n. d. ) ). Repeated vomiting also leads to erosion of the lining of the esophagus and internal bleeding. The Missouri Department of Mental Health (n.

d. ) states, "Severe fasting - as in anorexia - starves the body of needed nutrition, leading to shrinkage of vital organs, irregular heart rhythm or heart failure, and infertility. Some of these effects, if not detected in time, can be permanent or fatal." Those with eating disorders also suffer many emotional problems. "Personality changes, often observed along with physical changes, may include angry outbursts, isolative behavior, and depression" (Michel & Willard 2003, p.

6). Anxiety disorders are very common in sufferers of eating disorders. Eating disorders perpetuate problems. When these problems are combined with physical ones, eating disorders continue in a vicious, sometimes deadly, cycle.

The ANAB (n. d. ) states the mortality rate for eating disorders ranges from five to twenty percent. Treatment People suffering from eating disorders cannot solely help themselves.

Although they may be able to stop for a short time, in the long run they will be back in the same path of self-destruction. Kirkpatrick & Caldwell (2001) state, "Because eating disorders are a complicated mix of physical and psychological abnormalities, successful treatment always includes treatment of psychological issues as well as restoration of a healthy diet" (p. 131). Trained therapists should treat eating disorders.

The severity of the disorders will determine the need for outpatient therapy or an in-hospital program (Matthews, 2001, p. 178). There are many goals of therapy but the return to normalcy is the main goal. The eating disorder sufferer needs to restore and maintain a normal weight as well as develop normal eating and exercise routines.

Kirkpatrick and Caldwell (2001) state, In order to address the psychological aspects of the illnesses, it is first necessary to begin to reverse the physical abnormalities. Thus re feeding - supplying more food and helping the person establish a healthier nutritional pattern - is a prerequisite for dealing with the psychological problems; psychological treatment by itself will not be successful (p. 131). Conclusion Eating disorders stem from a combination of psychological, biological, and social factors.

Feelings of depression and anxiety along with daily stressor's can contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Society's focus on thinness can also be a contributing factor. Once begun, the eating disorder continues in a cycle that is self-perpetuating. Self-esteem is compromised, as is physical health. The psychological and physical effects of eating disorders are numerous. However, eating disorders are curable and help is available for sufferers.

Understanding the eating disorder's causes, effects, and treatments will aid one in providing the necessary help to those who suffer from the disorder. Without this help, the cycle of the disorder continues until there is a loss of self and inevitably of life. References Anorexia and Bulimia Association (ANAB). (n. d. ).

Eating disorders. Retrieved May 1, 2005 from web R. & Lask, B. (2004). Eating disorders: A parent's guide (Rev. ed.

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