Eating disorders can affect anyone, from tweens in elementary school to celebrity personalities, like Victoria Beckham and Elton John. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, as MANY as eleven million Americans suffer from some type of eating disorder. Simply put, an eating disorder is a mental illness characterized by an unhealthy obsession with weight and food. Left untreated, these obsessions cause great psychological and physical harm. Generally, eating disorders are broadly grouped into three categories: anorexia, bulimia and EDNOS. ANOREXIA is characterized by an extreme fear of weight gain and a distorted view of one's body size. People with anorexia seek thinness by limiting their food intake, either with excessive dieting or outright fasting. They are usually exceedingly thin, to the point of looking sickly, and are often malnourished, yet still feel as if they look "fat." BULIMIA, meanwhile, is characterized by frequent episodes of serious overeating, or binging, which are followed by purging behaviors meant to compensate for the binge. For example, people with bulimia often force themselves to vomit, and may overuse diuretics and laxatives. Bulimics are less likely than anorexics to be very thin. Instead, they usually maintain a fairly normal weight. The third category of eating disorder, EDNOS, stands for "eating disorders not otherwise specified." EDNOS encompasses all other eating conditions. For instance, a sufferer may experience episodes of binging and purging, but may not do so frequently enough to warrant a diagnosis of bulimia nervosa, or they may suffer from binge-eating disorder. Like bulimia, binge-eating disorder is characterized by intense and recurring food binges. But people with binge-eating disorder do NOT engage in purging. For this reason, they are often overweight or obese. Although society tends to stereotype eating disorder sufferers as adult females, these conditions affect ALL types of people. For example, the National Institute of Mental Health attests that MEN account for 5- to 15-percent of anorexics and up to 35-percent of those with binge-eating disorder. Eating disorders aren't just an adult issue, either. Among children and teenagers, as many as two in 100 suffer from some sort of eating disorder. These figures are particularly scary when you consider the long-term-and often irreversible-effects of eating disorders. Externally, these illnesses can cause hair loss, tooth decay, bloating and, of course, extreme weight loss. And the INTERNAL effects of eating disorders are even more severe. Females with eating disorders are more likely to stop menstruating, and to become infertile. These illnesses can cause heart and circulatory problems ranging from anemia to cardiac arrest, and major organ problems, like painful kidney stones, and potentially deadly pancreas inflammation. A high percentage of people with eating disorders DIE without treatment, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. While this is disheartening, treatment options are both numerous and effective! Many people with these illnesses find relief from ongoing psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, and medical supervision. If you believe that you or someone you care about is suffering from an eating disorder, PLEASE: Make an appointment with a doctor immediately!
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Last Updated:December 20, 2012