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Eating Disorders

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What causes a person to develop an eating disorder?

Who may be at increased risk?

Anorexia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa

Binge Eating Disorder


Eating Disorders are extreme expressions of a range of weight and food issues which many individuals, particularly women, experience.

What causes a person to develop an eating disorder?

In most cases, eating disorders are thought to result from a combination of factors. They have been associated with psychological, sociological & biological causes. It has been suggested that eating disorders may happen more often in individuals who tend to be perfectionists, who have a lack of control in other areas of their lives or who have been sexually abused in the past. People with obsessive-compulsive, histrionic or schizoid/schizotypal personalities also have a tendency towards eating disorders. Sometimes persons living within a dysfunctional family may also be more susceptible. Certain cultures are more favorable for the development of eating disorders as well-they occur more commonly in industrialized societies where thinness is idealized in the media. Genetics may also play a role.

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Who may be at increased risk:


-People with careers where they are expected to be thin
-People with a family history of mood disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse
-People with a history of sexual abuse
-Homosexual men
-Competitive athletes
-Persons already diagnosed with a mental illness (depression, OCD, anxiety disorder, substance abuse)

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Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa
, the two major eating disorders, are characterized by disturbed eating behaviors and an intense preoccupation with body weight and shape. Contrary to popular belief, these disorders were first documented centuries ago and are not just a consequence of modern pop culture and society’s obsession with beauty and slimness.

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is diagnosed when a person purposefully reduces body weight to 85% or less of expected body weight or refuses to gain weight proportionally with increasing height. The person has an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat even though underweight, has a distorted perception of their body’s appearance and in women, has missed three or more menstrual cycles. There are generally two sub-types of AN: restricting type and binge-eating/purging type. Restricting-type AN is characterized by a current episode of AN with the absence of any binge-eating/purging behavior (ie self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics or enemas). Binge-eating/purging type AN is characterized by regular engagement in binge-eating or purging behavior.

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is characterized by recurrent binge-eating episodes where there are feelings of a lack of control over eating during the binges. Also, there is recurrent inappropriate use of compensatory behaviors such as vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, strict fasting or vigorous exercise. In addition, the episode does not occur during an episode of AN. As with anorexia, there are two types of bulimia: purging type (ie use of laxatives, diuretics, self-induced vomiting) and non-purging (ie fasting or excessive exercise). Bulimia patients hide their binge-eating/purging behaviors and often have normal body weight.

Both eating disorders are associated with serious medical complications, some of which can lead to death. If you are experiencing any symptoms of an eating disorder, it is advised to see a physician.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) consists of episodes where an excessive amount of food is consumed in a given period. Large amounts of food are consumed quickly & there is an inability to control the eating. Binges often happen in secret & the person may feel overly full, guilty or ashamed about the episode afterwards. Unlike people who suffer from bulimia, those affected by BED do not engage in purging behaviour like vomiting or excessive exercise after a binge. Binge eating often happens in persons who have been dieting or restricting their food intake for a certain period of time where they have become very hungry & relieve that hunger with the binge. It may also happen when people use food as a means to relieve emotional distress, to comfort or numb themselves.

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