The Truth About Eating Disorders

When it comes to eating disorders, people think extremes: anorexia nervosa and compulsive, uncontrolled overeating. The general reaction to any person, male or female, who has an eating problem from those who don’t can be a frustrating inability to understand why it’s so difficult to gain control over one’s actions.

But in reality, getting control means altering and correcting a person’s mental state over the physical state. And it’s not an easy fix. The major eating disorders today are classified as mental disorders.

1. Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is the first condition that comes to mind when you mention eating disorders. Sufferers usually harbor an obsessive fear of gaining weight and become completely focused on being thin by starving themselves and exercising to the point of collapse. Many anorexics do not recognize their decreasing body weight as something serious and sometimes eat so little that their body’s systems shut down.

The talented vocalist Karen Carpenter was said to have become anorexic after she overheard a stagehand call her chubby, even though she was slender and weighed 110 pounds – a normal weight for her height of 5’4”. She weighed 78 pounds at her lowest weight and died unexpectedly and suddenly at age 32 from complications of her eating disorder.

2. Bulimia nevrosa

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder where the sufferer binges on vast amounts of food before purposefully forcing herself to purge or vomit to avoid gaining weight. Also present with this eating disorder is the use of diuretics, enemas and laxatives. Bulimics usually are not anorexic, but they do suffer from the same obsessive behavior and can also suffer from tooth loss and potentially cancers of the esophagus and mouth due to irritation from excess stomach acid.

The late Princess Diana of Wales reportedly suffered from anorexia and bulimia for at least 10 years. In the five months leading up to her wedding to Prince Charles, she lost so much weight that her waist measurement dropped from 29 inches (already slender for a woman just under 5’11” tall) to 23 1/2 inches.

3. Binge eating disorder

Binge eating disorder is different than anorexia and bulimia in that it involves eating huge amounts of food but not participating in the obsessive exercise, dieting or purging to get rid of the excess food in the body. It’s a very different condition from those who binge occasionally due to a breakup or a stressful work situation.

Sufferers binge at least once weekly for more than three months and suffer mentally after their binges with feelings of overwhelming guilt, negative self-hating thoughts and loss of control.

There are also other eating disorders aside from these top three, including atypical versions of them where patients have anorexia but are not underweight, where bulimics purge infrequently or where patients eat when they are sleepwalking.

Eating disorders aren’t just conditions that women suffer from. Men suffer as well. For many sufferers, eating disorders develop at a young age.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Eating Disorders Hotline at 1-800-931-2237 or visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.