Eating Disorders & Body Image

Eating Disorders

What are eating disorders?

An eating disorder is an illness that causes serious disturbances to your everyday diet, such as eating extremely small amounts of food or severely overeating. A person with an eating disorder may have started out just eating smaller or larger amounts of food, but at some point, the urge to eat less or more spiraled out of control. Severe distress or concern about body weight or shape may also characterize an eating disorder.

Eating disorders frequently appear during the teen years or young adulthood but may also develop during childhood or later in life.1,2 Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

Eating disorders affect both men and women. For the latest statistics on eating disorders, see the NIMH website.

It is unknown how many adults and children suffer with other serious, significant eating disorders, including one category of eating disorders called eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS). EDNOS includes eating disorders that do not meet the criteria for anorexia or bulimia nervosa. Binge-eating disorder is a type of eating disorder called EDNOS.3 EDNOS is the most common diagnosis among people who seek treatment.4

Eating disorders are real, treatable medical illnesses. They frequently coexist with other illnesses such as depression, substance abuse, or anxiety disorders. Other symptoms, described in the next section can become life-threatening if a person does not receive treatment. People with anorexia nervosa are 18 times more likely to die early compared with people of similar age in the general population.5

What are the different types of eating disorders?

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by:

  • Extreme thinness (emaciation)
  • A relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted body image, a self-esteem that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape, or a denial of the seriousness of low body weight
  • Lack of menstruation among girls and women
  • Extremely restricted eating.

Many people with anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight, even when they are clearly underweight. Eating, food, and weight control become obsessions. People with anorexia nervosa typically weigh themselves repeatedly, portion food carefully, and eat very small quantities of only certain foods. Some people with anorexia nervosa may also engage in binge-eating followed by extreme dieting, excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting, and/or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.

Some who have anorexia nervosa recover with treatment after only one episode. Others get well but have relapses. Still others have a more chronic, or long-lasting, form of anorexia nervosa, in which their health declines as they battle the illness.

Other symptoms may develop over time, including:6,7

  • Thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Dry and yellowish skin
  • Growth of fine hair all over the body (lanugo)
  • Mild anemia and muscle wasting and weakness
  • Severe constipation
  • Low blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse
  • Damage to the structure and function of the heart
  • Brain damage
  • Multiorgan failure
  • Drop in internal body temperature, causing a person to feel cold all the time
  • Lethargy, sluggishness, or feeling tired all the time
  • Infertility.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over these episodes. This binge-eating is followed by behavior that compensates for the overeating such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors.

Unlike anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia nervosa usually maintain what is considered a healthy or normal weight, while some are slightly overweight. But like people with anorexia nervosa, they often fear gaining weight, want desperately to lose weight, and are intensely unhappy with their body size and shape. Usually, bulimic behavior is done secretly because it is often accompanied by feelings of disgust or shame. The binge-eating and purging cycle happens anywhere from several times a week to many times a day.

Other symptoms include:7,8

  • Chronically inflamed and sore throat
  • Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area
  • Worn tooth enamel, increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth as a result of exposure to stomach acid
  • Acid reflux disorder and other gastrointestinal problems
  • Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
  • Severe dehydration from purging of fluids
  • Electrolyte imbalance (too low or too high levels of sodium, calcium, potassium and other minerals) which can lead to heart attack.

Binge-eating disorder

With binge-eating disorder a person loses control over his or her eating. Unlike bulimia nervosa, periods of binge-eating are not followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting. As a result, people with binge-eating disorder often are over-weight or obese. People with binge-eating disorder who are obese are at higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.9 They also experience guilt, shame, and distress about their binge-eating, which can lead to more binge-eating.

How are eating disorders treated?

Adequate nutrition, reducing excessive exercise, and stop-ping purging behaviors are the foundations of treatment. Specific forms of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, and medica-tion are effective for many eating disorders. However, in more chronic cases, specific treatments have not yet been identified. Treatment plans often are tailored to individual needs and may include one or more of the following:

  • Individual, group, and/or family psychotherapy
  • Medical care and monitoring
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Medications.

Some patients may also need to be hospitalized to treat problems caused by mal-nutrition or to ensure they eat enough if they are very underweight.

Taken from: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/complete-index.shtml

 

Body Image

Does any of this sound familiar? “I’m too tall.” “I’m too short.” “I’m too skinny.” “If only I were shorter/taller/had curly hair/straight hair/a smaller nose/longer legs, I’d be happy.”

Are you putting yourself down? If so, you’re not alone. As a teen, you’re going through lots of changes in your body. And, as your body changes, so does your image of yourself. It’s not always easy to like every part of your looks, but when you get stuck on the negatives it can really bring down your self-esteem.

Why Are Self-Esteem and Body Image Important?

Self-esteem is all about how much you feel you are worth — and how much you feel other people value you. Self-esteem is important because feeling good about yourself can affect your mental health and how you behave.

People with high self-esteem know themselves well. They’re realistic and find friends that like and appreciate them for who they are. People with high self-esteem usually feel more in control of their lives and know their own strengths and weaknesses.

Body image is how you view your physical self — including whether you feel you are attractive and whether others like your looks. For many people, especially people in their early teens, body image can be closely linked to self-esteem.

What Influences a Person’s Self-Esteem?

Puberty and Development

Some people struggle with their self-esteem and body image when they begin puberty because it’s a time when the body goes through many changes. These changes, combined with wanting to feel accepted by our friends, means it can be tempting to compare ourselves with others. The trouble with that is, not everyone grows or develops at the same time or in the same way.

Media Images and Other Outside Influences

Our tweens and early teens are a time when we become more aware of celebrities and media images — as well as how other kids look and how we fit in. We might start to compare ourselves with other people or media images (“ideals” that are frequently airbrushed). All of this can affect how we feel about ourselves and our bodies even as we grow into our teens.

Families and School

Family life can sometimes influence our body image. Some parents or coaches might be too focused on looking a certain way or “making weight” for a sports team. Family members might struggle with their own body image or criticize their kids’ looks (“why do you wear your hair so long?” or “how come you can’t wear pants that fit you?”). This can all influence a person’s self-esteem, especially if they’re sensitive to others peoples’ comments.

People also may experience negative comments and hurtful teasing about the way they look from classmates and peers. Although these often come from ignorance, sometimes they can affect body image and self-esteem.

Tips for Improving Body Image

Some people think they need to change how they look to feel good about themselves. But all you need to do is change the way you see your body and how you think about yourself. Here are some tips on doing that:

Recognize that your body is your own, no matter what shape or size it comes in. Try to focus on how strong and healthy your body is and the things it can do, not what’s wrong with it or what you feel you want to change about it. If you’re worried about your weight or size, check with your doctor to verify that things are OK. But it’s no one’s business but your own what your body is like — ultimately, you have to be happy with yourself.

Identify which aspects of your appearance you can realistically change and which you can’t. Humans, by definition, are imperfect. It’s what makes each of us unique and original! Everyone (even the most perfect-seeming celeb) has things that they can’t change and need to accept — like their height, for example, or their shoe size. Remind yourself that “real people aren’t perfect and perfect people aren’t real (they’re usually airbrushed!)”.

If there are things about yourself that you want to change and can, do this by making goals for yourself. For example, if you want to get fit, make a plan to exercise every day and eat healthy. Then keep track of your progress until you reach your goal. Meeting a challenge you set for yourself is a great way to boost self-esteem!

When you hear negative comments coming from within, tell yourself to stop. Appreciate that each person is more than just how he or she looks on any given day. We’re complex and constantly changing. Try to focus on what’s unique and interesting about yourself.

Try building your self-esteem by giving yourself three compliments every day. While you’re at it, every evening list three things in your day that really gave you pleasure. It can be anything from the way the sun felt on your face, the sound of your favorite band, or the way someone laughed at your jokes. By focusing on the good things you do and the positive aspects of your life, you can change how you feel about yourself.

Some people with physical disabilities or differences may feel they are not seen for their true selves because of their bodies and what they can and can’t do. Other people may have such serious body image issues that they need a bit more help. Working with a counselor or therapist can help some people gain perspective and learn to focus on their individual strengths as well as develop healthier thinking.

Where Can I Go if I Need Help?

Sometimes low self-esteem and body image problems are too much to handle alone. A few teens may become depressed, and lose interest in activities or friends. Some go on to develop eating or body image disorders, and can become depressed or use alcohol or drugs to escape feelings of low worth.

If you’re feeling this way, it can help to talk to a parent, coach, religious leader, guidance counselor, therapist, or friend. A trusted adult — someone who supports you and doesn’t bring you down — can help you put your body image in perspective and give you positive feedback about your body, your skills, and your abilities.

If you can’t turn to anyone you know, call a teen crisis hotline (an online search can give you the information for national and local hotlines). The most important thing is to get help if you feel like your body image and self-esteem are affecting your life.

 

Taken from: http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/body_image/body_image.html

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