An eating disorder is a form of expressing feelings through body size, eating behaviors, and controlling what goes in and out of the body. Most eating disordered individuals have used their eating disorder as non-verbal communication about how they feel. Eating disordered individuals attach emotions to food, and this allows them to gain a sense of control over their lives. This attachment of emotions to food allows a person with an eating disorder to eat more food, binge, purge, and/or restrict to hide and suppress feelings. The emotions often relate the identity of the feelings to the past. The eating disorder protects the individual as a self-regulating system by covering up, distorting, and displacing vulnerable feelings onto physical body parts as sensations by inhibiting or pushing away painful emotional expression. The self-system of an individual uses the eating disorder to self-soothe in response to emotional pain in the form of physical sensations. The individuals with an eating disorder romanticize physical ailments and blame the food for making them fat.
Anorexia nervosa is mainly characterized by the restriction of food and the refusal to maintain a minimal normal body weight. Anorexics are characterized by behaviors that represent unhealthy and inappropriate ways to prevent and compensate for perceived or imagined weight gain. The anorexic is characterized by a refusal to maintain at least a minimum of 85% of ideal body weight based on age-appropriate height and weight. Individuals with anorexia dramatically reduce their food intake to below the number of calories required to maintain their ideal body weight. Anorexia literally means “a loss of appetite” and can be characterized by self-induced starvation, a relentless drive for thinness, and a morbid fear of becoming fat.
Anorexic individuals may be coping through restricting and purging behaviors. Individuals with the restricting subtype of anorexia typically consume 300–500 calories per day with 0 grams of fat. After the anorexic individual consumes these 300–500 calories, he or she may compensate for the consumed calories by engaging in a compulsive and relentlessly overactive cycle of exercise. In the purging anorexic, the individual alternately attempts to diet rigorously and binge intermittently, while engaging in compensatory purging behavior to compensate for consuming unwanted calories. For these individuals, the restriction of food intake may relieve the psychological stress associated with other factors such as sexual assault, parents’ divorce, incest, and school bullying.
Bulimia nervosa sufferers, sometimes called “Bulimics,” are often caught in a destructive binge-purge cycle. The bulimic individual feels out of control and experiences panic and mental angst related to the severe desire for thinness and a fear of fatness. As a result, compensatory purging behaviors occur. Bulimia nervosa is characterized by engagement in binge-purge cycles that include eating large amounts of food (i.e., binging). The binging is followed by an attempt to force vomiting or by abusing laxatives (i.e., purging); diabetics not taking insulin; use of laxatives, diuretics, diet pills; ipecac; chew-spitting; or exercise to compensate for the real or imagined weight gain caused by the calorie-laden binged food. For individuals with bulimia nervosa, the purging behavior can reduce stress. Bulimia nervosa is a failed attempt at anorexia, although individuals with bulimia share the goal of achieving thinness. Individuals with bulimia nervosa may experience many failed attempts at mini-starvation behaviors and evoke feelings of severe hunger that cause binging on calorie-laden food only to face severe conflict and anxiety.
Compulsive overeaters are often locked into a fearful cycle of binging and depressive symptoms with food such that control over their feelings, bodies, and families are an essential part of the cycle of binge eating and depression. Compulsive eaters or “binge eaters” often use food as a self-regulating coping mechanism to deal with unwanted feelings. Eating temporarily distracts them from these feelings, but it is often shadowed by feelings of guilt, horrid shame, disgust, and sadness. Binge eating occurs in secret and often at night.
Causes of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders, Alcohol use and Substance are complex diseases and not just a condition that can be treated with willpower. They meet the definition of a disease because like other diseases they have a particular destructive process for an individual, with a specific cause (that cause can be either known or unknown), and display characteristic symptoms. All eating disorders, Alcohol, and substance use disorders are primary diseases and not the secondary result of some other disorder. They are chronic conditions with an identifiable progression and predictable symptoms. Eating disorders, Alcohol Use, substance use disorders arise out of the combination of genetic, sociological, and psychological factors.