Disordered eating, also referred to as eating disorders, is when a person has an abnormal or obsessive relationship with food. Instead of treating food as a source of nutrition and energy, people with eating disorders restrict or increase their calorie intakes to the detriment of their physical health. Disordered eating is a type of mental illness, and is generally characterized as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or a combination any of these.
Eating disorders are often accompanied by other types of mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. Interpersonal, social, and biological factors can also affect the progression of illness. Patients often have extremely distorted body images, and might see themselves in the mirror as fatter or skinnier than they actually are. They may also use food to compensate for other feelings like sadness, loneliness, or lack of control. While disordered eating is most likely to affect females between the ages of 12 and 25, males can also have issues of distorted body images and feel they need slim down or bulk up.
Anorexia is an eating disorder in which a person has an irrational fear of getting fat. Patients become obsessive about controlling their calorie and fat intake, eating as little as possible to reach a desired weight. They often continue to believe they are overweight even when they are clearly malnourished. Besides starving themselves, anorexia sufferers might also abuse laxatives or over-exercise.
Another type of disordered eating that stems from a fear of becoming overweight is bulimia. Bulimics deliberately overeat, and then attempt to compensate by fasting, inducing vomiting, abusing laxatives, or over-exercising. People with bulimia are not always extremely thin, and they often perform their food rituals in private without the knowledge of friends and loved ones.
Binge eating disorder is characterized by repeated episodes of excessive calorie intake. People with this illness might become dangerously overweight, although many sufferers are at a normal weight or only slightly overweight. As with bulimia, the overeating is often done in private and is accompanied by feelings of shame and self-loathing.
Disordered eating can have serious health consequences. Anorexics risk osteoporosis, muscle loss, as well as heart and kidney failure. Bulimics can suffer from electrolyte imbalances that can lead to heart failure, as well as damage to the teeth and esophagus. Binge eating disordered can lead to heart and cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.