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Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are real and serious illnesses that can sometimes be life-threatening. They are also very common. Each year, more than five million Americans have an eating disorder.

The major types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.  It is very likely that you know someone with an eating disorder.

The good news is that there is hope. Learning how to identify these disorders can help you to help yourself or a friend with an eating disorder. With treatment, people do get better and can return to their everyday lives.

Anorexia Nervosa
People who intentionally starve themselves may have an eating disorder called anorexia nervosa. The disorder, which usually begins in young people around the time of puberty, involves extreme weight loss - at least 15 percent below the individual's ideal body weight. Many people with the disorder look extremely thin but are convinced they are overweight. For reasons not yet understood, they become terrified of gaining any weight. Sometimes they must be hospitalized to prevent starvation. One in ten cases of anorexia nervosa leads to death from starvation, cardiac arrest, other medical complications or suicide.

Warning signs… a person may
    -Not eat enough
    -Feel "fat" even if he or she is very thin
    -Always feel cold and tired
    -exercise vigorously at odd hours

Medical complications of anorexia nervosa
· Starvation which can damage vital organs such as the heart and brain
· Monthly menstrual periods stop (for women)
· Breathing, pulse, and blood pressure rates drop, and thyroid function slows
· Nails and hair become brittle
· The skin dries, yellows, and becomes covered with soft, fine hair
· Excessive thirst and frequent urination may occur
· Mild anemia, swollen joints, reduced muscle mass
· Bones may become brittle and prone to breakage

Bulimia Nervosa
People with bulimia nervosa consume large amounts of food and rid their bodies of the excess calories by vomiting, abusing laxatives or diuretics (drugs that increase urination), taking enemas, or exercising obsessively. Some use a combination of all these forms of purging. Because many individuals with bulimia "binge and purge" in secret and maintain normal or above normal body weight, they can often successfully hide their problem from others for years.

Warning signs… a person may
    -Eat a lot of food quickly, then get rid of it by purging
      -Gain and lose weight often
    -Have irregular menstrual periods (for women)
    -Starve himself or herself after eating instead of purging

Medical Complications of bulimia nervosa
· An irregular heartbeat
· Dehydration (the body doesn't have enough water)
· Tooth decay from the stomach acid found in vomit
· Cuts and scrapes on the backs of hands when fingers are pushed down the throat to induce vomiting

Binge Eating Disorder
An illness that resembles bulimia nervosa is binge eating disorder. Like bulimia, this disorder is characterized by episodes of uncontrolled eating or bingeing. However, binge eating disorder differs from bulimia because individuals do not purge their bodies of excess food. One-third to one-fourth of all people with binge eating disorders are men.

Warning signs… a person may
   -Not stop eating when full
   -Become obese or gain weight rapidly
   -Eat a lot of food in a short time without purging afterwards

Medical complications of binge eating disorder
· Serious medical problems associated with obesity, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes

Why do young people develop eating disorders?
There may be more than one reason a person develops an eating disorder.

A person's self image
Most people with eating disorders share certain personality traits: low self-esteem, feelings of helplessness and a fear of becoming fat.

The need to be perfect
People with anorexia tend to be "too good to be true." They tend to be perfectionists, keep their feelings to themselves, are often good students and excellent athletes.

A stressful personal life
People who develop bulimia and binge eating disorder typically consume huge amounts of food- often junk food- to reduce stress and relieve anxiety. With binge eating, however, comes guilt and depression. Purging can bring relief, but it is only temporary. Individuals with bulimia are often impulsive and more likely to engage in risky behavior such as abuse of alcohol and drugs.

Society or family pressures
Individuals with eating disorders often have a parent or other family member who is overly critical of their weight. People pursuing professions that emphasize thinness- like modeling, dancing, gymnastics, wrestling and long-distance running- are more susceptible to the problem.

The body's chemistry
In the central nervous system- particularly the brain- key chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters control hormone production. Scientists have learned that levels of these neurotransmitters are decreased in acutely ill people with anorexia and bulimia and long-term recovered anorexia patients.

Co-occurring Disorders
Many young people with eating disorders also have other mental illnesses such as clinical depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality or substance abuse disorders, and many are at risk for suicide.

Treatment
Eating disorders are most successfully treated when diagnosed early. The first step is a complete physical examination to rule out any other illnesses. Once an eating disorder is diagnosed, a doctor will decide if the person is in immediate medical danger and should be treated in a hospital.

Treatment plans usually include a combination of:
-Cognitive behavioral therapy - learning new patterns of behavior with food and relationships
-Psychotherapy - talking out problems with a trained professional and finding ways to solve them. Individual, group and family therapy are often recommended.
-Nutritional counseling - understanding proper nutrition, restoring normal body weight and learning to eat in a healthy manner are critical to recovery.
-Medication- certain drugs may be prescribed to relieve depression, anxiety and bingeing. Studies show that antidepressants can be used successfully to treat some people with eating disorders.

Hospital care may be necessary if a person experiences:
· Excessive and rapid weight loss
· Severe bingeing and purging
· Serious medical complications
· Clinical depression and suicidal thoughts

Additional Resources:

National Eating Disorders Organization
Works to prevent eating disorders; and provides treatment referrals.
http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD)
Focus on education and advocacy; and offers free support and self-help groups.
http://www.anad.org

 

     
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