Despite the label, eating disorders are not about food. Eating disorders are a way of coping with deep problems a person finds too painful to deal with directly. Eating disorders can be hard to detect as today’s society is preoccupied with body image. It is reported that at any given time 70% of women and 35% of men are dieting. Media glamorizes the “ideal” body. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. There are three chronic eating disorders:
• Severe weight loss due to restriction in food
• Refusal to keep body weight at or above normal range
• Restricting food intake
• Excessive exercise
• Feeling overweight despite dramatic weight loss
• Loss of menstrual period
• Preoccupation with body weight and shape
• Repeated episodes of binging and purging – usually self inflicted vomiting
• Abuse of laxatives, diuretics and diet pills
• Uncontrolled compulsive eating, often in secret
Diagnosis can be difficult, since the symptoms of eating disorders often occur in combination with depression, anxiety and substance abuse. People with an eating disorder usually work very hard to keep it secret and find it very difficult to acknowledge that they have a problem. A multi-disciplinary approach is the most effective treatment route. This involves a thorough medical assessment, nutritional guidance, support, medical follow-up, individual, group and family therapy. Because eating disorders have a profound negative impact on all family members, the entire family may need counseling.
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