Eating Disorders: The Deadliest Mental Health Issue

By Kevin P. Caputo, M.D.

More than 30 million Americans of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder. This means that you likely know someone who is struggling with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder or a similar problem right now. Whether you recognize that they have a problem or not is another issue, since many people with eating disorders are very good at masking the symptoms, at least for a while.

Eating disorders are not only widespread, they’re also very dangerous. Someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder every 62 minutes – the highest mortality rate of any mental health issue.

Eating Disorders Are Not a “Lifestyle Choice”

There’s no one simple cause of an eating disorder. It’s a complex mix of biological, psychological, social, and interpersonal issues. It’s important to keep in mind that an eating disorder is not a lifestyle choice that someone pursues. It’s an illness.

People with eating disorders may have an imbalance of chemicals in the brain that control things like hunger, appetite, and digestion. Additionally, eating disorders often run in families, suggesting that there may be a genetic component to the illness.

Psychological factors such as low self-esteem and feeling a lack of control may also contribute to an eating disorder. Controlling when, what, and how much they eat is a way for sufferers to regain that feeling of control over their lives. Many people with eating disorders also suffer from other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

Social and cultural pressures are factors in eating disorders as well. People with an eating disorder may be overwhelmed with images of perfect bodies they see portrayed in the media, which typically depicts only a very narrow view of ideal beauty. Eating disorders may arise, in part, as a way to achieve this ideal.

Occasionally people with eating disorders also have interpersonal issues to deal with. They may have suffered physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or may have been teased about their size or weight.

Common Eating Disorders and Their Treatment

The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorder (BED).

Someone with anorexia nervosa may think they are overweight despite being extremely underweight. They will have an obsessive fear of gaining weight and will severely limit their consumption of food. The health consequences can be severe, including brain damage, organ failure, bone loss, heart problems, infertility, and a high risk for death.

Bulimia is characterized be periods of binging and purging. The sufferer may gorge themselves by overeating, which they then follow with a cycle of purging through forced vomiting, exercise, and overuse of laxatives. Bulimia can cause stomach problems and heart issues from electrolyte imbalances.

Binge eating disorder involves the same type of overeating seen with bulimia, but without purging. For this reason, people with binge eating disorder may by overweight or obese, and suffer related issues such as diabetes and heart disease.

Treatment for eating disorders is as complex as the conditions themselves and requires a holistic approach. Doctors will monitor and treat the health issues created by the eating disorder, therapists will help with the underlying psychological issues, and nutritionists will provide an eating plan to help the patient return to healthy eating practices. Family, friends, and support groups will also be an integral and indispensable component of successful long-term recovery.

About the Author

Kevin P. Caputo, M.D.

Dr. Caputo believes a trusting, open relationship is important to facilitate the healing process. He feels it is important for patients to be educated in order to create the best outcome.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Caputo, please call 610-874-5257.

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