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Eating disorders involve a preoccupation with one's weight and eating, which may begin as simply reducing the amount they eat and then grow to restricting all intake. The prevalence in the population seems to be about 4 per 100,000 people, with females presenting the disorder more often than males, especially those in adolescence and young adulthood 1. Some studies suggest that eating disorders are on the rise, which may be the cause of dominant beauty and body image standards in Western society. This is further emphasized by the fact that eating disorders are more prevalent in Western cultures than non-Western, although they are on the rise in non-Western cultures as well 2. The reason for this could be from the growing influence of the West in other societies.
Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorders are the common subtypes of eating disorders. Anorexia is characterized by a reduction in the amount of food eaten by the individual so severely that there is extreme weight loss, while bulimia nervosa involves binge eating and purging. This means the person may eat a large meal, seemingly out of control, and then purge to get rid of the food through self-induced vomiting, the use of laxatives, or excessive amounts of exercise. In binge eating, the person purely binges without purging, which often leaves them feeling depressed and guilty, spurring another binging episode.
The impact of starvation can be extremely dangerous, resulting in anemia, infertility, osteoporosis, hair loss, loss of muscle, and organ failure. It is one of the most dangerous of mental disorders when considering the possibility of death from the disorder. Binge eating is also dangerous to one's health because it can result in diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Treatments for eating disorders include the obvious focus of reducing purging, binge eating, and behaviors associated with the disorder such as food restriction, and to increase the individual to a healthy weight. Techniques include individual and group therapy, specifically cognitive-behavioral therapy, information regarding proper nutrition, and in severe cases, medical treatment in an in-patient facility. A focus on treating the maladaptive cognitions about food and body image that lead to the eating disorder is also of utmost importance in order to prevent relapse and promote a healthy mental state.
1. Smink, F. R. E., van Hoeken, D., and Hoek, H. W. (2012). Epidemiology of Eating Disorder: Incidence, Prevalence and Mortality Rates. Current Psychiatry Reports, 14(4), 4016-414.
2. Makino, M. and Dennerstein, L. (2004). Prevalence of Eating Disorders: A Comparison of Western and Non-Western Countries. Medscape General Medicine, 6(3), 49.
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