Eating disorders are group of illnesses that are characterized by unhealthy eating patterns, irregular eating habits, skipping meals and other unhealthy behaviours. It is classified as a mental illness because it can be caused by an emotional problem and by obsessive concern about body weight and shape which has its root in the self-esteem of the individual.
They also have a biological cause. There are many types of eating disorder; some of them are bulimia nervosa, anorexia, binge eating disorder, night eating syndrome and pica. It can be treated medically by use of drugs, anti-depressants and hormones to control food cravings or appetite.
Psychotherapists are also involved to get to the root cause of the eating disorder and nutritional counselors are consulted to help the patients get back to being healthy and recover fast by eating right foods.
It is more common in females than males, 80% of eating disorder patients are women. This can be due to the fact that they are very emotional and they can have poor self-esteem, negative body image, and unrealistic idea of an ideal body and starve to attain it. It can be treated medically but if left untreated, serious health complications can arise and which can be irreversible in most cases and in extreme cases of untreated eating disorder, death can occur.
Some signs and symptoms of eating disorder are:
- Chronic dieting despite being underweight.
- Switching between overeating and fasting.
- Depression and obsessive concern over body weight.
- Social isolation.
- Follows a strict eating plan and engage in a ritualistic eating pattern.
- Always counting calories and fat contents of food.
- Constant fluctuations in weight.
Untreated and prolonged eating disorder can affect a person’s physical and mental health negatively; and we will be looking at the negative impact of eating disorders on the health people.
- Malnutrition: This is one of the leading causes of sicknesses and death in the world; malnutrition affects the body negatively and can even lead to death because the body can’t get enough nutrients for it to carry out its normal functions. Without quality food the body cannot survive.
- Loss of electrolyte: Electrolytes like sodium, chloride and potassium are needed for important body functions at the molecular level and their absence or low levels can cause problems in important body metabolism and cellular functions. It can even lead to heart failure and death.
- Heart problems: Heart problems such as irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, slow heart rate and heart failure can arise because of eating disorders. This is due mainly to lack of nutrients.
- Osteoporosis: This is a medical condition characterized by weakening and thinning of the bones; this results in weak, dry and brittle bones. This is mainly due to calcium deficiency and because calcium is needed for many biochemical and cellular function, the body begins to draw calcium from the bones because the bones have the largest amount of calcium in the body.
- Organ failure: Severe malnutrition of dehydration can make the liver, kidney, heart and other important organs of the body to fail. It even affects the brain.
- Chronic fatigue and weaknesses: Due to malnutrition, the body cannot get nutrients to make energy; therefore the body becomes weak and physical activities are affected. Muscle weakness also sets in.
- Reduced number of blood cells: Eating disorders cause a reduction in the number of white and red blood cells. The white blood cells help the body in fighting off infections and the red blood cells helps in transporting oxygen through the whole body. When their number is reduced, their function also is reduced and this keeps the body at risk of coming down with infections and running short of oxygen.
- Reproductive problems: Severe malnutrition can cause reproductive problems in women, it can even stop menstruation to stop and in some cases it will never flow again. It reduces the production of the female sex hormone and this leads to low sex drive; it can also cause miscarriage, still birth and abnormalities in newborn babies.
- Digestive problems: Many digestive issues can occur like irregular bowel movement, constipation and indigestion due to abuse of laxatives.
- Depression: The brain is affected when one is suffering from malnutrition, as a result mood and emotions are affected. The production of serotonin, the feel good hormone is also reduced and this can lead to depression and in extreme cases the patient may try to take his/her life.
- It weakens the brain: Prolonged malnutrition shuts the brain down and the brain starts to lose its matter. When this happens over a long period of time and the patients is put on nutritional exercise, the white matter of the brain can return but the grey matter cannot be return; this affects decision making, memory, concentration, learning and cognitive functions.
- It leads to a weak immune system: Due to lack of nutrients, the immune system becomes so weak that it cannot fight diseases and infection; this makes the body very susceptible to all kinds of illnesses, infections, microorganisms and toxins that can cause harm. This makes the individual to be sick often.