What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are psychological conditions with both emotional and physical symptoms. The disorders include anorexia nervosa (voluntary starvation), bulimia nervosa (binge-eating followed by purging), binge-eating disorder (binge-eating without purging) and unspecified eating disorders (disordered eating that does not fit into anther category). Eating disorders occur frequently—but not exclusively—in affluent cultures. A disproportionate number of those diagnosed are young women in their teens and 20s but anyone, including young men and older adults, can develop an eating disorder at any age. Among the most baffling of conditions, eating disorders take on a life of their own so that eating, or not eating, becomes the focus of everyday existence.

Biological factors, social pressure, and family history and dynamics are some of the factors associated with eating disorders. Culturally mediated body-image concerns and personality traits like perfectionism and obsessiveness also play a large role in eating disorders, which are often accompanied by depression and/or anxiety.

Treatment is never simple for these conditions which, in many cases, can cause multiple medical problems and even be acutely life-threatening, requiring hospitalization and forced nourishment. It can take a multi-disciplinary team of of health professional, including a psychotherapist, medical doctor and a specialized dietitian or nutritionist to bring someone with an eating disorder to full recovery.

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