Eating disorders have become very prevalent in the United States, as well as all over the world. People deal with dieting, exercise, and a slew of other options to try and lose weight, and sometimes it can spiral out of control. Eating disorders are viewed as illnesses that are associated with a change in eating behavior, harsh body image distortion, and a fixation with weight. There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, and since all three of these often times overlap, they all have similar causes and treatment methods.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes people to starve themselves to death through the process of dramatically decreasing caloric intake. This particular eating disorder usually occurs during early to middle adolescence and is a lot more common among women than in men. A common misconception is that anorexia is due to a person’s decrease in appetite, yet the victim’s appetite is normal at first, and only decreases due to prolonged periods of lack of food. Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include significant weight loss, the refusal to preserve a lowest standard body weight, the loss of menstruation, dry skin, a sickly complexion, and a severe fear of gaining weight. Anorexia has many adverse effects on the body such as lowering the victims body temperature, lowering their white blood cell count, causing sever heart problems and brittle, weak bones. Its long term effects are kidney trouble and osteoporosis, and eventually death due to infections or cardiac failure. Bulimia nervosa is usually described as a disorder where a person has two or more episodes of binge eating per week for at least three months. Binge eating is the fast consumption of a large amount of food that can consist of up to five thousand calories. Often times this binge eating is followed by compensatory actions such as purging through premeditated vomiting, the usage of laxatives, or obsessive exercising. Bulimia can appear at any age ranging from early adolescence to the age of forty, but it is more commonly seen as clinically serious during late adolescence. Bulimia is not considered as dangerous to a person’s health as anorexia, but it also has many detrimental effects on the body. Bulimia commonly causes fatigue and general weakness, constipation, bloating, swollen salivary glands, erosion of dental enamel and sore throat due to vomiting, dehydration, a loss of potassium, and tearing of the esophageal lining. Binge eating disorder is bulimia nervosa, but without the compensatory behaviors. A person just partakes in massive amounts of eating, but does not induce vomiting, exercise, or use any other type of intentional weight loss. Binge eating often overlaps with anorexia in that the victim starves herself between rapidly gaining weight a few times a week. Since all three of these disorders often overlap in the occurrence and usage by victims, they all share similar causes. One category of potential causes of these disorders is genetics. Eating disorders have been observed to run in families especially between sisters, mothers, and twins. Also, it has been suggested that eating disorders are a result of hormones and neurotransmitters in individual’s bodies that regulate the activities of food intake and energy output. Another theory is that they may be caused by endorphins in the body. These are opiate like substances that have been discovered in high amounts in the spinal fluid of anorexic patients. Also, anorexia has been linked to the possible cause of excessive physical activity. Another category of potential causes of eating disorders is that they are caused by psychological factors. Patients with anorexia often use starvation as a form of self-punishment, referred to as rigidity. This theory is that in order to restore a sense of order to their life, the patient restricts food to herself in order to feel that she still controls a certain aspect of life.
The patient gains great pride in the ability to lose weight because their self imposed rules about the intake of food are substitutes for actual independence. This idea of independence also ties into the next psychological cause which is an overprotective family. A patient with anorexia often starves themselves as a way to sidestep adulthood and remain childlike due to a fear of adult femininity and becoming like their mother as well as exert control over one aspect of their life. In addition, the idea of starvation can be tied in adequate nurturing which results in starvation due to the unacknowledged purpose of pleasing a parent who is interpreted as imposing harsh restrictions. These patients struggle with the want for perfection to prove that they do not need others to tell them who they are and what they are worth. Bulimia has possible familial origins as well in the idea that women generally feel less parental affection and involvement than what they need, and thus soothe themselves with food. This overeating then results in shame and self-hatred. Another interesting theory that does not have much data to support it is that eating disorders are caused by child sexual abuse which is seen in many psychiatric symptoms for women. The last category for the causes of eating disorders is quite possibly the most obvious and that is the influence of culture on body image. The article by Iazetto, King, and Yanco said, “Women are made to feel like failures if they don’t measure up to the ideals”. Women are slowly becoming larger and larger with each generation, yet the ideal body is being presented as smaller. The result of this is women becoming obsessed with diet, exercise, and weight loss. In fact, more than half of American women claim to be on a diet. The article also states that, “The pressure to conform is promoted by a market whose success depends on convincing us that we don’t look good enough.” This article proved the idea that the need for an individual to mold themselves into a certain body image is often linked to society’s idea of success and self competence. This is proved by the fact that eating disorders are seen at every income level and social strata in the country and in other countries that have been exposed to American media; the rate of eating disorders has increased. Regardless of which societal level an individual rests at, the obsession with weight is the same because body image reflects a certain control and success in one’s life. All three of these eating disorders differ, yet they overlap in practice and causes to such a great extent that the treatment for these illnesses often must overlap slightly. Regardless, each of the three has a distinct way of being reversed. For anorexia, hospitalization occurs for patients once their weight decreases to twenty percent below normal or when she is in mortal danger. Operant condition then must be used in order to get the patient to eat to normalize her weight. It is possible that tube feeding may be needed in the beginning just to keep the patient alive.
Following the procedure of weight gain, behavioral techniques must be implemented in order to preserve and promote the gaining of weight. The first of these used with anorexics is systematic desensitization, which is muscle relaxation with visual imagery or direct exposure to a graduated series of situations that involve food. Cognitive techniques must then be used to correct the individual’s beliefs about food. Bulimia is often a lot easier to treat than anorexia is because it has been found that bulimics often want help and want to be cured. Anti-depressants have been found to relieve symptoms of bulimia, and Prozac has been approved as a treatment. There are behavioral treatments for bulimics such as exposure and response prevention with self induced vomiting. The patient eats until nausea sets in, and then must write down their feelings and must tolerate their anxiety. Bulimics can also go through the examination of self-defeating beliefs in order to reverse the idea that a slight weight gain is bad and obvious to everyone as well as the illusion that their worth depends solely on their looks. Often times it much easier to gain a full recovery from bulimia and binge eating than it is for an anorexic. But for all eating disorders, whether they recover or not, an obsession with weight is often still seen. All three eating disorders differ slightly in their definition, cause, and treatment, but yet an overlap is seen. Patients who experience a difficulty with their weight and body image are often willing to go to any length to lose weight and achieve their goals. Thus, they can often involve themselves in many practices which can include starvation, binging, and compensatory actions. A victim of an eating disorder may not only be labeled as anorexic, bulimic, or a binge eater, but may actually in some way be all three. The problem lies in that society forms an ideal body image that women strive for everyday, and are often willing to stop at nothing to achieve it.