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Eating disorders: a growing concern


Eating disorders and social interactions

 Nowadays eating disorders have become a social emergency. Not only an alarming number of teenage women are affected by these sometimes devastating disorders, but a growing number of young men and children are experiencing them as well.

 Obsession for thinness and a perfect body is only one of the many factors responsible for the development of eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. In fact eating disorders are multifactor pathologies, involving several interacting factors (individual, family, social and cultural) that act on individuals who are already biologically or psychologically vulnerable. Thus, conditions like emotional tensions, family conflicts, depression, loneliness and too rigid diets, can contribute to trigger eating disorders, which are nothing but manifestations of underlying more serious psychological disorders.


Eating behaviour

Clinical and behavioral manifestations vary depending on the type of eating disorder, ranging from serious eating restrictions (sometimes at the point of fatal self-starvation) as in anorexic patients, to cycles of binge eating (even multiple times a day) followed by purging through vomiting, laxatives or excessive exercise, as in bulimic patients. Regardless of these different eating behaviours, patients with eating disorders tend to have certain common features: lack of self-esteem, a distorted perception of their body and personality, as well as obsession for food.


The last is particularly pronounced. People with eating disorders think about food all the time. They spend most of their day (and sometimes night) agonizing over what to eat, how many calories they have already taken and how they can rid of unwanted calories. And this obsession often leads to other emotional or mental problems (such as depression, irritability, shame, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts) which inevitably contribute to a decreased quality of life.


However eating disorders affect not only quality of life and mental health, but also physical health. Most physical complications arise from the serious nutritional imbalances and deficits that accompany an unbalanced eating, and include among others cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, digestive problems, amenorrhea, bone loss, severe tooth decay and even death.


Eating disorders treatments*

It is important that therapy is instituted as early as possible, even at the first presentation of symptoms. Unfortunately, this is most often not possible. Patients with eating disorders tend to seek for medical help only many years after the disorder has begun. However a valuable help can come from family and loved ones, who may encourage the person with eating disorders to cope with his or her disease and to get help from a doctor, a therapist or a counsellor.


The treatment of eating disorders is based primarily on cognitive-behaviour therapy (psychotherapy), nutritional counselling and sometimes medications. Cognitive-behaviour therapy, which can be individual or group-based, can help affected people correct the distorted perception of their own bodies, change their eating habits, control urges to binge, as well as it can help them learn how to cope positively with stressful events.


Psychotherapy can be also supported by other complementary therapies, such as nutritional education (directed to correct nutritional disorders) and medications, like antidepressant and/or anti-anxiety.


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*Always seek professional medical advise from a qualified doctor before undergoing any treatment.