When a person struggles with an eating disorder, they tend to harbour worryingly unhealthy characteristics towards their food, thus creating a pattern of under-eating or over-eating, resulting in an unhealthy obsession with weight and shape. In time, this obsession can damage their health particularly if treatment is not sought and, in extreme cases, can be fatal. Eating disorders can affect both males and females. The most commonly known disorders are anorexia and bulimia and both have psychological and physical effects. An anorexia sufferer will try to keep their weight as low as possible, by eating the minimalist of food or starving themselves excessively to dangerous levels. A bulimia sufferer will try to control their weight by partaking in a period of binge eating, but immediately afterwards deliberately making themselves sick to rid of the food.
Eating disorders are very often linked to current social pressures to be thin. Whilst this may be the case for some sufferers, there are usually more complex and underlying issues behind the manifestation of these disorders. Whilst some people may feel an immense pressure to conform to a certain look, generally sufferers tend to have low self-esteem, depression or obsessive personality traits. A huge contributing factor also stems from difficult childhoods and relationships with immediate family members. Stress inducing periods of everyday life such as exams, work and social situations can also trigger the disorders with sufferers feeling an immense need to feel in control.
Spotting an eating disorder can often take some time and usually only comes to light when the disorder has taken hold for some time. This is due to sufferers becoming quite secretive and accustomed to hiding their problems by way of baggy clothes, careful control over their food intake and eating away from others. Sufferers may also deny they are ill when approached on the subject as psychologically they don’t believe they have a problem. Warning signs however can include skipping meals, claims of eating later, eating specific low calorie foods in front of people and a fixation on their weight despite being of an average weight or indeed underweight.
In order to treat an eating disorder, the sufferer needs to acknowledge there is a problem with their eating habits which is beyond their control. Professional help can then be sought. Although physical changes can be seen within months of diagnosis, a sufferer may take longer to recover psychologically. It is therefore necessary to educate such suffers, and those closest to them, as much as possible about the need for a healthy lifestyle whilst continuing to establish good food habits once again. With care and education it is possible for sufferers to begin to lead normal lives after their treatment.