By: Paul Knoll, PhD, LMHC, CAP
Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can result in critical medical issues, even death. Many might remember the case of Terri Schiavo, a young lady whose extremely restrictive diet led her to experience severe brain damage and to be sustained on life support from 1990 to 2005. The court order to pull her feeding tube after 15 years was a point of tremendous controversy.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders actually have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. The two most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Anorexia nervosa is an obsession with being thin. Sufferers may turn to starvation, excessive exercise, laxative use, or drinking too many fluids to keep their weight low. Puzzlingly, when they look in the mirror, they see themselves as fat.
In bulimia nervosa, patients go through cycles of bingeing on food and then “purging” or regurgitating their food. Many patients describe having trigger foods, such as fast foods, potato chips or chocolates. They eat voluminous amounts of food, but feel guilty afterwards. Initially, they start purging their meal in an attempt to stay thin.
Both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are associated with certain risk factors such as being a teenage girl. Individuals with a sibling who has had an eating disorder are also at greater risk. In fact, studies are suggesting there might be a genetic link to this type of illness. Finally, mental health conditions such as low self esteem, depression, and obsessive compulsiveness all might be risk factors for developing an eating disorder.
Treatment for both disorders involves a team of medical doctors working to help the individual achieve a normal weight. Hospitalization might be necessary. Psychiatrists might also be involved in the patients care and prescribe antidepressant medication,to help treat the illness. Therapy can have a dramatic influence on the recovery of individuals with this condition, as well. Please contact Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare at (850) 431-5148 to schedule a consultation with our staff if you know of anyone experiencing either of these serious conditions.