Eating Disorders

The standard of beauty has become very strict in the recent years as society nowadays patronizes figures that are slim, thin, and tall. Fat or being overweight is just not acceptable anymore. In an effort to conform to these standards, many people attempt to limit their food intake and develop poor eating habits that sometimes end up in anxiety and eating disorders. Eating disorders are mental health disorders that are driven by the desire of an individual to lose weight and stay slim. Eating disorders are different from the usual dieting in that the effort to lose weight is extreme to the point of starvation. An eating disorder can be very damaging, both physically and emotionally, and people can get stuck into the negative cycle of the eating disorder without knowing how to manage it. These disorders are more common in women and in adolescents.

There are different types of eating disorders, but the two most common are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a psychological disorder wherein an individual feels the need to limit food intake because of the perception that she is fat when, in reality, she is not. An anorexic goes into extreme dieting even when she has been constantly losing weight and does not recognize her emaciation. In essence, anorexia nervosa is a disrupted perception of one’s self-image that drives an individual to go into unhealthy dieting to maintain a very slim figure.

The signs and symptoms of anorexia are:

  • The patient weighs less than what they should for their age and height and still believes they are overweight.
  • The patient uses techniques like vomiting to make him or herself thinner.
  • Skipping meals
  • Extreme dieting or too much pre-occupation in calories
  • Extensive or overly rigorous exercise
  • Underweight for age through excessive weight loss
  • Anxiety over gaining weight
  • Claiming to be fat despite weight loss
  • Low self-esteem that is highly dependent on weight or body figure
  • Patients refuse to accept the fact that being too underweight is dangerous for their health

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a psychological disorder wherein an individual overeats but later on feels guilty about eating and therefore comes up with ways to compensate like by self-induced vomiting. Bulimia nervosa is also known as the “binge and purge” disorder because the individual engages in episodes of overeating (or binging) followed by episodes of self-induced vomiting (or purging).

The signs and symptoms of bulimia are:

  • Episodes of overeating followed by a sense of shame
  • Purging - making themselves vomit or using other methods like laxatives to get rid of the excess food
  • Feeling of a lack of control or inability to stop eating
  • Frequent trips to the comfort room after eating
  • Callouses at the back of the hand due to induced vomiting
  • Inability to gain weight despite overeating
  • Anxiety over gaining weight
  • Extensive or overly rigorous exercise
  • Low self-esteem that is highly dependent on weight or body figure


Eating disorders can lead to life-threatening complications because the body is not receiving the proper nourishment. Having an eating disorder is like subjecting one’s body to voluntary starvation. This can lead to:

  • Body weakness
  • Amenorrhea or irregular periods
  • Fainting
  • Muscles wasting
  • Brittle bones
  • Thinning out of hair and nails
  • Feeling cold and tired all the time
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low heart rate
  • Heart failure
  • Dehydration
  • Kidney and other organ failure
  • Depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating or suicidal ideations
  • Substance abuse

Particularly for bulimia nervosa, other complications might be possible because of the repeated episodes of vomiting. These include:

  • Electrolyte imbalance that can lead to heart problems
  • Damaged esophagus
  • Tooth decay


No laboratory test can diagnose eating disorders. The diagnosis is based on clinical signs and symptoms, which requires a very high index of suspicion. Most anorexics or bulimics will never admit their problem and will never seek help because they do not think that there is something wrong with them. Hence, the relatives or friends of the patient most often volunteer the diagnosis of an eating disorder.

After the diagnosis is made, tests can be requested to check for the presence of complications. These tests include blood tests, urine test, ECG, and X-rays.


Because eating disorders are primarily mental health disorders, the treatment is largely based on psychological counseling. This is done through psychotherapy, which can be in the form of one-on-one therapy, group therapy, or family therapy. In these counseling sessions, the goal is to help an individual develop a more acceptable concept of health and beauty and develop a healthier eating habit. The therapist aims to help the individual gain weight and prevent the complications that can arise from these eating disorders.

Some individuals can be successfully treated as outpatients. However, others might need to be rehabilitated in a hospital, and a few need to be admitted to address the physical complications of the disorder.

The treatment for these disorders can last for months to years because mental perceptions are difficult to change. In addition, even when an individual is treated, there are still chances for them to relapse back into the disorder, especially when they feel that they are gaining too much weight again. Therefore, it is very important that the family is involved in the treatment so that other people can monitor the recurrence of the disorder. In addition, a regular follow-up with the therapist is helpful in monitoring the condition.