Eating Disorders and Recovery
The act of eating or avoiding eating in a way that hurts not only one’s own physical and mental health is to suffer from an eating disorder. An eating disorder can inject itself into every aspect of a person’s life. The term “eating disorder” includes rumination syndrome, selective eating disorder, and compulsive overeating. The two most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, the diagnostic criteria of which are strikingly similar.
Anorexia Nervosa, more commonly called Anorexia, is an eating disorder. This means that, not only does it affect a person’s physical health but it is also an issue of mental health as well. Unlike an out of control dieter, someone suffering from anorexia usually begins dieting to lose weight and then, over a varying period of time, weight loss becomes one of that person's greatest sources of power and is his or her greatest sense of control. This often results in a never ending cycle of obsessive restriction and fasts that feed the anorexic's need for control over the body.
While undergoing treatment for the disorder, weight gain is surprisingly not the most important aspect of recovery. Due to increasing restrictions on insurance coverage treatment options depend on available resources, so most decide on an outpatient treatment program encompassing psychological therapy as well as monitoring of medical health.
Similar to anorexia, an adverse health effect of suffering from bulimia is the irregularity or total loss of menstrual periods. Bulimia is characterized by obsessive cycles of binge eating periods followed by irrational methods to control weight, such as self induced vomiting, compulsive exercise, and laxative abuse. Laxative abuse is common in those suffering from this disorder and can cause serious health issues, like an abnormal buildup of fluid. Those suffering from bulimia experience fluctuations of weight, with weight loss being much less obvious than that of anorexics. Binge eating, a response to stress or depression rather than intense hunger, often brings on a feeling of euphoria. After a binge, bulimics may feel ashamed at their momentary lapse in control and attempt to negate the effects and regain control by immediately purging. Purging comes in many forms, not only the well known self-induced vomiting but also in starvation periods and excessive exercise.
When being treated for bulimia, patients present various complications, medical and psychological. Vomiting repeatedly (often multiple times daily) can not only erode tooth enamel and increase the patient’s chance of getting a cavity, but also results in esophageal ulcers and ruptures. Ongoing laxative abuse can cause dysfunction in the normal elimination process and cause bulimics to become dependent on laxatives for eliminating waste from the body and in some cases the colon can cease function altogether, creating a need for surgical interference. The ultimate goal of the patient during the recovery process should be to accept oneself and to lead a normal life physically and emotionally through learning to combat urges to abuse food in order to deal with depression and other stressful emotions. Achieving these goals will undoubtedly take time and results will only gradually become apparent, so it is important to instill patience and a sense of optimism in the patient in order to attain a successful recovery and to prevent relapse.
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* Eating Disorders Self Help Program from the Canadian Mental Health Association
* The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC)