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Eating Disorder Awareness

Eating Disorder Awareness

One in 200 women in America suffers from anorexia, a common eating disorder. Mahaska Health Partnership warns of the dangers during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an eating disorder is present when a person experiences severe disturbances in eating behavior. “An eating disorder may start with a person eating smaller portions or with excessive exercise,” Mahaska Health Partnership New Directions Social Worker Kimberly Pickett said. “However, at some point, these behaviors spiral out of control.”

The two main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. The NIMH said these disorders frequently appear during adolescence or young adulthood. “Women and girls are more likely than males to develop an eating disorder but the condition also affects males as well,” Pickett explained.

The NIMH indicated that anorexia is characterized by a relentless pursuit for thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal, healthy weight. Those suffering with the condition often have a distorted image of their body, seeing themselves as overweight, even when they are starved and malnourished.

“People struggling with anorexia are at increased risk for developing many other health complications,” Pickett said. “These can include thinning of the bones, low blood pressure, a drop in internal body temperature and dry/yellowish skin.”

Unlike anorexia, people with bulimia consume unusually large amounts of food and feel a lack of control related to eating. Their binge eating is usually followed by purging (vomiting or excessive use of laxatives), fasting or excessive exercise.

“Although people suffering from bulimia usually fall within a normal range for their age and weight, they often fear gaining weight, want to lose weight and are intensely unhappy with figure,” Pickett said. “Complications from bulimia might include a sore throat, swollen glands, decaying teeth from exposure to stomach acids, kidney problems and severe dehydration.”

Pickett stressed that treatment options are available for people suffering from an eating disorder. “It’s important to watch for warning signs and encourage the person to get help as quickly as possible.”

The NIMH outlined behavioral, physical and psychological warning signs of an eating disorder. Behavioral signs include constant dieting, compulsive exercising, changes in food preferences, avoidance of meals, social withdrawal and denial of hunger. Physical signs are sudden weight loss, signs of frequent vomiting, fainting or dizziness and fatigue. Psychological warning signs include a negative body image, heightened sensitivity to comments or criticism, depression or anxiety and moodiness.

“Because an eating disorder is usually accompanied by a psychological condition such as depression or low self esteem, the condition is usually treated by a team of providers that might include their physician, psychiatrist, a therapist and a dietitian,” Pickett explained.

If you fear your loved one may be suffering from an eating disorder, speak with their primary care provider or contact MHP New Direction at 641-672-3159.