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An Introduction to Eating Disorders

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Eating Order Awareness

The following information will hopefully help sufferers, as a wide variety of topics will be covered including the causes of eating disorders, the distinct types that people can have and the different methods of treatment.

Overall, it will help give a deeper awareness of the seriousness and increasing prevalence of conditions such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder (BED) and Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (ENDOS)


There are several myths and incorrect information surrounding the disorder, and these need to be understood and our perception altered to ensure that the information we have is correct and is most beneficial when dealing with someone who is suffering from an eating disorder. It is important to:

Eating Disorders and What They Are

To most people, when the phrase ‘eating disorder’ is mentioned, they will associate it to poor eating behaviour, such as eating very little. Others think that having an eating disorder refers to eating too much. However, eating disorders are much more complex than these simple definitions and several recent studies and research are being conducted to help understand this problem.

What is understood is that an eating disorder is a mental problem or a psychological disorder, and should not be looked at as if it is an eating disturbance.

Eating disorders can be classified as:

Disorders affect both women and men, but women are susceptible and there are more female sufferers than men. Young women and girls between the ages of 12 to 20 suffer from the problem most commonly (or noticeably), but it can affect anyone, at any time. Eating disorders are, at times, difficult to notice since we do not have diagnostic measures available to detect the problem.

It often starts off as a normal condition, especially for people going through adolescence, who are concerned about their body shape, and who are sensitive to criticism. The condition can then develop into a serious illness and may have serious effects on the sufferer if they do not get treated as soon as possible.

The disorder may manifest itself without showing any signs. Luckily, the condition can be treated.

The sooner a person gets helped, the earlier they recover from the problem. Different people take different amounts of time to recover, often dependent on the disorder they are suffering from.

Note that it is possible for one to be a victim of one or more types of eating disorder.

Causes of the Disorder

Eating disorders do not have fixed causes. Research shows that the disorder may develop in several ways, because of a number of circumstances. It has been established that there are many causes, including:

Genetics — The way that someone behaves and or looks is determined by genes. As a result, genetic factors are thought to be part of the causes of the disorder. This does not suggest that everyone who suffers from the problem inherited it from their parents, but what it means is that genetic factors determine how people behave when eating food.

Personality - This has an enormous impact on the way an individual behaves. Many people are particularly sensitive to criticism and feel they must be perfect and this is simply an aspect of their personality. However, this desire to be perfect can become uncontrollable and can lead to an eating disorder both as an attempt to improve themselves, and to gain control of something.

Hormonal Changes and Disruption - Hormonal changes may result in someone developing an eating disorder. According to research, it has been shown that people who suffer from eating disorders react differently to stimuli and have been found to have brain structures that are different to those who do not have a disorder.

Media/Society — There is much awareness and emphasis placed on how people look in society today, and this is also thought to contribute to developing an eating disorder. People become more concerned about their body shape and tend to eat less as a result. The media, including social media, is also believed to contribute to an individual’s eating behaviour.

Women can become obsessed with the idea of maintaining a specific shape (size zero) and tend to reduce the amount of food they eat to attain the desired results.

Also, those who suffer from low self-esteem may seek acceptance by changing the shape of their body, believing that this can be achieved by eating less and causing them to develop the disorder.

Trauma and Stress - This can also lead to some form of eating disorder. When one becomes overwhelmed with events happening around them, it could lead them to adopt peculiar eating behaviours, such as eating tiny amounts of food.

Explaining the Myths

There is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding what an eating disorder and those who suffer with them, and so there is serious need for creating awareness about the problem. Having a good understanding about the disorder is important and can help one differentiate between the myths and the facts.

Here are some myths that revolve around eating disorders:

Myth #1: Eating disorders are defined as bad eating habits or behaviour.

Fact: The disorder is a mental disorder that can be cured by being subjected to proper treatment and people should treat it as a genuine problem and should understand that it needs to be attended to with the seriousness it deserves. Statistics indicate that the disorder is a major contributing factor to mental illness, hence the need to find out how it should be treated correctly and most successfully, just as it is done with any other mental illness. Eating disorders are believed to be the main cause of the high mortality rate in mentally ill patients.

Myth #2: Upper class girls are severely affected by the disorder, more so than anyone else. They are normally carried away with the idea of losing weight and trying to maintain a size zero.

Fact: The cause of eating disorders is a mental illness, which can affect any person, at any time. Even though young girls and women are vulnerable, since they often suffer from the problem on a higher scale, they are not the only people who develop the disorder and do so for several reasons.

Myth #3: The notion of an eating disorder is a relatively new concept.

Fact: The disorder was observed for the first time in the 1680s, though it was present in a slightly lower magnitude. However, the prevalence has increased due to increased stress and the ever-increasing challenges modern life.

Myth #3: The disorder results from a poor lifestyle.

Fact: The victims often find it difficult to believe and accept the fact that they are ill. They also find it difficult to accept that the disorder can be treated and cured.

Myth #4: It is not possible for one to recover from the disorder

Fact: Proper guidance and treatment can cure the problem. However, an eating disorder can impact on the patient’s life in the long term.

Myth #5: Eating disorders can be caused by bad parenting

Fact: Eating disorders are caused by several complex factors, and poor parenting is certainly not among them. Family members have a key role to play in assisting the patient during recovery.

Myth #6: All underweight people suffer from the problem.

Fact The disorder is a mental problem and revolves around a person’s emotions and thoughts. A person’s apparent physique cannot qualify one to be treated as a patient of an eating disorder.

Myth #7: Individuals with eating disorders are likely to adopt bad eating behaviour because of their desire to be noticed and look like celebrities.

Fact: The root cause of eating disorder is low confidence and low self-esteem. People who suffer from this problem will want to go unnoticed and will often do everything they can to avoid being noticed.

Body Shaming and Body Image

Normally, most patients will be unhappy how their body looks. They often believe that they do not look good and will desire to change their body until they feel they have achieved the ‘perfect’ look, despite what their actual body shape is. To fully understand an eating disorder, it is important to critically look at the body image concept which can be understood by looking at the following aspects:

Body image perception refers to how one sees their body, despite what their body is like.

How you feel about your body image results in how you think and see it, compared to how you want it to look. Cognitive body image refers to what one thinks about their body size and shape. Individuals who are not comfortable with the way they look will mostly adopt unhealthy behaviours, which they believe can change their body image for the better. People who feel positive about their body image will often accept who they are and will do everything they can to avoid developing eating disorders.

Why Some People Are Not Satisfied with How They Look

Understanding why there is a tendency for some people to become dissatisfied with how they look is important if one wants to learn how to treat an eating disorder. People tend to comment and criticize other people, even if they do not realize they are doing so, and some people react destructively when negative feedback is given. This is what leads to developing a negative body image and the desire to alter yourself in some way, resulting in the development of an eating disorder.

The media also plays a role in making people feel dissatisfied with the appearance of their body. Some individuals may feel dissatisfied with themselves after being surrounded with seemingly perfect celebrities and models, featured on billboards, media platforms, magazines, and television. What they perceive as the standard of beauty results from the use of makeup or digital manipulation and cannot be realistically attained. When people compare themselves with these standards, they feel dissatisfied with their body type and will strive to obtain the beauty standards they see in the media. This is what results in changes in eating styles and eventually leads to an eating disorder.

To reduce the chances of developing a negative body image, it is important to maintain positive thoughts and understand that images we see every day are not a reflection of reality. Setting healthy goals that can be realistically achieved will improve the image you have of your body and reduce the chances of developing negative eating behaviours.

Men and Eating Disorders

Even though it is often believed that it is women who suffer from eating disorders, to sensitivities when it comes to appearance, it has been found that men also suffer from the problem. This needs to be brought to attention, since eating disorders in men are normally ignored.

Here are reasons why some men will develop the disorder:


Eating disorders are given less attention than they deserve, given how severe the problem is and the high mortality rate among people who suffer from them.

- The disorder has a high mortality rate in people who suffer from mental illness.

- According to one of the studies carried out in 2015, in the UK, there were around 725,000 persons suffering from the disorder.

- Even though eating disorders are a problem that effects mostly women, the National Institute of Health Clinic Excellence carried out a study which showed that 11% of the 725,000 affected patients were males.

- The NHS estimates that 6.4% of all adults showed signs that they were prone to developing an eating disorder. 25% of them were male.

- The Healthcare Information Centre released a report that showed an increase in the number of persons affected by the illness.

- Nearly 8% of people admitted to hospital showed signs of eating disorders.

- Despite this, statistics and information on such cases is difficult to gather and eating disorders are likely to be confused with other illnesses, since they do not have clear symptoms and signs.

- According to some reports, the number of people suffering from the disorder is increasing at the rate of 7% per year.

It has also been established that Bulimia is more prevalent than anorexia nervosa, and that twice as many people could suffer from the problem than anorexia.

- Bulimia occurs more often in women than it occurs in men.

- In fact, the available data show that 90% of people suffering from the problem are women.

- The disorder usually starts developing at 18 & 19 years of age.

- The most complicated eating problem, referred to as bingeing, is more difficult to spot or define in patients than it is with other eating disorders.

- Between the ages of 30 and 40, the rate is lower than in younger people, though it is apparent that around 5% of adults suffer from the problem.

- According to the latest manual on mental disorder, bingeing, bulimia, and anorexia are so far the most prevalent eating problems.

- Eating disorders not specified (EDNOS) are common and they do not follow any trend.

- The latest statistics show that over 40% of eating disorder patients suffer from bulimia. Slightly over 10% suffer from anorexia, while the remainder suffer from EDNOS or binge.

-Since eating disorders can be difficult to diagnose we do not have a specific age bracket concerning those who suffer from them.

- The problem is found in women aged 70, as well as children who are as young as six years old.

- If the disorder is not treated early, it can last for several years.

- In fact, anorexia is believed to last for around 8 years, on average.

- On the other hand, bulimia could last for around 5 years.

- The actual period the problem spans vary and could be a life-long problem if it is not treated on time.

- Bulimia and anorexia are widespread eating disorders.

- When it comes to treatment, over 66% of those suffering from anorexia recover, while 33% positively respond to treatment, while less than 20% continue to suffer from the problem.

- Concerning bulimia, 23% of those with the condition do not recover from the problem,

while 27% show some signs of improvement, and 45% experience full recovery.

- ln all the above cases, the lives and the health of the victims is seriously affected by the disorder and, in some cases, it leaves serious effects on the victim, even after recovery.

- Anorexia is believed to have a higher mortality rate compared to other types, as most of the victims suffer from malnutrition, which can lead to death.

- ln the case of bingeing, it leads to medical complications and diseases that lead to obesity.

- Eating disorders can hugely impact negatively on the life of the patients and their immediate families.

- Statistics show that people are 11.4 times likely to suffer from anorexia if they are from a family where members suffered from the problem, and are 3.7 times more likely to suffer from Bulimia when a family member has the disorder.

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