What Are Eating Disorders?

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Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that affect a person’s relationship with food. These disorders can significantly impact a person’s physical and mental well-being, and if left untreated, they can lead to serious health problems and even death.

There are several different types of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Each type of eating disorder is characterized by specific symptoms and behaviors that can vary in severity.

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image. People with anorexia nervosa may severely restrict their food intake and exercise excessively to maintain a low body weight. They may also have an intense fear of gaining weight and may experience feelings of shame and guilt when they do eat. This disorder can cause a range of physical complications, including malnutrition, muscle weakness, and heart problems.

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by cycles of binge eating and purging. People with bulimia nervosa may consume large amounts of food in a short period of time and then try to get rid of the food by vomiting, using laxatives, or exercising excessively. This disorder can cause damage to the teeth and gums, esophagus, and intestines, and can also lead to electrolyte imbalances.

Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large amounts of food in a short period of time, often accompanied by feelings of shame and guilt. People with binge eating disorder may eat even when they are not hungry and may eat to the point of discomfort. This disorder can cause weight gain and increase the risk of obesity-related health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

Eating disorders can develop at any age but most commonly begin in adolescence or young adulthood. Factors that may contribute to the development of eating disorders include genetic predisposition, cultural pressure to be thin, and traumatic life events.

Treatment for eating disorders typically involves a combination of therapy and medication. Therapy can help individuals with eating disorders explore the underlying causes of their disorder and develop new coping strategies. Medication can help alleviate symptoms such as depression and anxiety, which are often associated with eating disorders.

One of the most effective forms of therapy for eating disorders is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to their disorder. For example, a person with anorexia nervosa may be taught how to recognize and challenge their fear of gaining weight.

Another form of therapy that can be effective in treating eating disorders is family-based therapy. This type of therapy involves the entire family in treatment and helps to improve communication and support within the family. It can be particularly helpful for parents of children with eating disorders.

Medication can also play a role in the treatment of eating disorders. Antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are often associated with eating disorders. Additionally, antipsychotic medications can be used to help reduce the symptoms of anorexia nervosa, such as paranoia and delusions.

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can significantly impact a person’s physical and mental well-being. Early intervention and treatment can be effective in helping individuals with eating disorders recover and regain control of their relationship with food.

It’s important for individuals with eating disorders to seek help from a qualified professional. This can include a therapist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professionals. In some cases, it may also be necessary to seek treatment at an eating disorder clinic or approach your family doctor for advice.

About The Contributor

Dr Rachel Teoh Pui Pui 

Family Physician


MBBS (Spore 2002), Postgraduate Diploma, Postgraduate Diploma in Family M, DIP (Fam Med, 2009), DIP (Derm UK, 2007)

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