What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are complex psychological and behavioral problems that involve compulsion to eat-or not to eat-in a way that would disturb the patient’s physical and mental health.

More often than not, the symptoms can be seen as extreme, or as extensions of culturally-acceptable behavior and preoccupations. For instance, some actresses are accused of having eating disorders in their quest to become thin (and ultimately, become accepted in the mainstream entertainment industry).

The most commonly known eating disorders are "anorexia nervosa" (over starvation) and "bulimia nervosa" (over eating, and usually followed by purging). These, along with other types of eating disorders, can cause severe, immediate, and long-term health issues. They are also considered fatal.

Types of eating disorders: Along with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, the following are considered forms of eating disorders, each with a different cause.

Starvation diet – Although dieting can be good to one’s health, there are some cases where patients would undergo extreme calorie restriction, medication, or unusual patterns of eating. For instance, people suffering from starvation diet would eat a single fruit or meal a day.

Binge eating disorder – Abbreviated as BED, it is a psychiatric disorder in which the patient eats unusually large amounts of food at one time-usually more than a normal person would eat-until he or she is physically uncomfortable. This is then followed by feelings of disgust, depression, or guilt.

Diabulima – Combining the terms "diabetes" and "bulimia", it is a eating disorder where Type 1 diabetics deliberately omit their insulin injections, while following their prescribed restrictive diet, to lose weight.

Orthoexia nervosa – This eating disorder is characterized by an unhealthy fixation on eating what the patient considers to be healthful food. This includes avoiding certain foods, such as those containing fats, preservatives, or animal products.

Rumination – It is an eating disorder where the patient brings up partially digested food, and then rechews it before swallowing or spitting it out. Although this is considered natural and healthy for some animals like cattle and goat, it is potentially dangerous to humans.

Pica – Derived from the Latin word for magpie, Pica is an appetite for non-nutritive substances like coal, soil, chalk, wood, hair among others. It can also be an abnormal appetite for some things that may be considered as food like food ingredients (flour, raw potato, ice, starch).

Night eating syndrome – A recently-recognized eating disorder, where patients have an ongoing and persistent eating during sleep. Sufferers would undergo sleepwalking, go straight to the refrigerator (or where food is kept), and binge all while unaware of what is happening.

Causes of eating disorders: There are several causes that would trigger eating disorders, with the media being a significant influence through its impact on values, norms, and image standards accepted by modern society. Other causes would involve relieving oneself of feelings of worthlessness, perfectionism, depression, obsessive compulsive behavior, or a way to recover from trauma.