Eating disorders are a major public health problem and blight the lives of young people and their families. Not all sufferers with eating disorders are young and/or underweight. Eating disorders affect males and females of all ages and all walks of life. They often, but not always, begin around puberty however it may be several years into the disorder before sufferers realise the extent of the problem. Most sufferers change between diagnoses over time as their situations change.
Eating disorders fall into four categories:
This is a severe emotional disorder that impacts on the mind and damages the body through starvation. It is the third most chronic illness for adolescent girls in Australia (behind obesity and asthma).
This is characterised by frequent episodes of binge eating followed by purging behaviours such as vomiting, laxatives, diuretics or excessive exercise in a frantic effort to lose weight.
EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified)
This is where sufferers’ individual symptoms do not fit the criteria for either Anorexia or Bulimia. Sufferers’ symptoms are any mixture of the above criteria.
Binge Eating Disorder
This is characterised by compulsive overeating with no attempt to avoid weight gain.
The exact cause of eating disorders is uncertain, however a number of characteristics are commonly found in those who develop the disorder:
Psychological factors such as low self-esteem, anxiety, self-criticism and perfectionism.
Changes in life circumstances for example breakdown in relationships, trauma, abuse and neglect.
- Biological factors such as hormonal or chemical imbalances may also play a role in the development of an eating disorder.
There are two intense treatment options and both involve developing adaptive ways of coping to replace the maladaptive coping strategies developed with the eating disorder.
For many a 4-8 week inpatient stay is necessary to ensure medical and nutritional stability and provide education around ways to control the eating disordered headspace and to support behavioural changes: Day Programs are beneficial in long term support as they focus on improving sufferers coping skills and challenging eating disorder thinking.
Recovery may be a long and slow process that can involve relapse and readmission as part of the process.