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Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are not a lifestyle but rather a mental disorder. A person with an eating disorder will be obsessed with thinking about food, their weight and appearance. These thoughts cause severe disruption in eating habits and disruptive behavioural patterns associated with body weight management. The perception of body shape will be distorted and self-image will be abnormally controlled by one's own body shape and the ability to control the diet. Disorders can develop in people of all ages and of any gender.

An eating disorder is a synonym of several diseases. The most common disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Individuals with anorexia nervosa experience great fear of gaining weight, even when they are underweight, and often undergo strict dieting or use other methods to lose weight. Bulimia nervosa is a disorder characterised by repetitive periods in which an individual eats a lot of food in a short period of time together with a strong feeling of loss of control of their eating. The individual then tries to get rid of the calories they have consumed by using various repeated and unhelpful methods to prevent weight gain. Binge eating disorder is a disorder that can cause obesity. Individuals then experience repeated and out of control eating outbursts, in which they eat very large amounts of food in a short period of time. An individual that is binge eating does not use methods to get rid of the food they consume. Some individuals have mixed symptoms from anorexia and bulimia but do not belong to a particular category of eating disorders, although there may be serious symptoms of illness. Those cases are classified as unspecified eating disorders, orthorexia being among them, which is characterised by the individual being obsessed with a clean diet.

People with eating disorders are of different weights and have different body shapes, it is a great misconception that it shows on appearance if individuals have an eating disorder. The vast majority of those with an eating disorder are at an ideal weight and even above ideal weight. Eating disorders usually develop as a result of a diet regimen where people initially plan to lose a few kilos or simply go on an extreme diet by starving themselves or getting rid of food in another way. Such diets can end in a vicious circle as the individual never feels light enough and loses sight of what is a healthy body weight and a normal meal. In addition, there can be cases of serious binge eating, even in bursts/episodes where the individual loses control over the amount they eat but then gets rid of the food afterwards, for example by inducing vomiting. Over-exercising or excessive exercise is common eating disorder behaviour. In addition, focusing excessively on muscle mass, taking steroids to build muscle, or taking other substances to minimise fat percentage, can be eating disorder behaviour. This manifestation is common in men but it can occur with anyone.

Eating disorders can be accompanied by great mental dysphoria, anxiety and depression. Individuals with an eating disorder often isolate themselves and do not want to spend as much time with family or friends as they did before. There is a great misconception that an eating disorder is a lifestyle or a fashion phenomenon, an eating disorder is a very serious mental disorder and anyone who is ill needs appropriate treatment. It is never too late to seek help, but if action is taken early enough, a development to serious levels can often be prevented. An eating disorder has the highest mortality rate of all mental disorders.

(This text is partly derived from the national hospital's eating disorder team.)