Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by cycles of bingeing and purging. A person with bulimia nervosa tries to get rid of the food she has eaten. This is attempted by vomiting, using laxatives, enemas or diuretics, by exercising excessively, by skipping meals or by dieting.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is characterized by repeated episodes of  binge eating. Individuals with BED do not generally try to compensate for their over-eating by vomiting, fasting, over-exercising or abusing laxatives as people with anorexia or bulimia may do.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are complex conditions that arise from a combination of long-standing behavioral, biological, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and social factors. Scientists and researchers are still learning about the underlying causes of these emotionally and physically damaging conditions.

We do know, however, about some of the general issues that can contribute to the development of eating disorders.

While eating disorders may begin with preoccupations with food and weight, they are most often about much more than food. People with eating disorders often use food and the control of food in an attempt to compensate for feelings and emotions that may otherwise seem overwhelming.

For some, dieting, bingeing, and purging may begin as a way to cope with painful emotions and to feel in control of one’s life. However, these behaviors may ultimately damage a person’s physical and emotional health, self-esteem, and sense of competence and control.

Over 90 per cent of people with eating disorders are women.

 The following facts reflect that statistic.

Women with eating disorders are at risk for long-term psychological and social problems including depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide.

 In 2000, the prevalence of depression among women who were hospitalized with a diagnosis of anorexia (11.5 per cent) or bulimia (15.4 per cent) was more than twice the rate of depression (5.7 per cent) among the general population of Canadian women.

The highest incidence of depression was found in women aged 25 to 39 years for both anorexia and bulimia.

Young women have the highest rates of hospitalization for eating disorders - 65.5 per cent are women aged 15 to 19; followed by women aged 10 to 14 years.

 Psychological Factors that can contribute to eating disorders

  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life
  • Depression, anxiety, anger, or loneliness

Interpersonal Factors that can contribute to eating disorders

  • Troubled family and personal relationships
  • Difficulty expressing emotions and feelings
  • History of being teased or ridiculed based on size or weight
  • History of physical or sexual abuse

Social Factors that can contribute to eating disorders

  • Cultural pressures that glorify “thinness” and place value on obtaining the “perfect body”
  • Narrow definitions of beauty that include only women and men of specific body weights and shapes
  • Cultural norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance and not inner qualities and strengths

Biological Factors that can contribute to eating disorders

Scientists are still researching possible biochemical or biological causes of eating disorders. In some individuals with eating disorders, certain chemicals in the brain that control hunger, appetite, and digestion have been found to be unbalanced. The exact meaning and implications of these imbalances remains under investigation.

 Eating disorders often run in families. Current research is indicates that there are significant genetic contributions to eating disorders.

Eating disorders are complex conditions that can arise from a variety of potential causes. Once started, however, they can create a self-perpetuating cycle of physical and emotional harm.

 More information

Eating Disorders Program

National Eating Disorders Association

National Eating Disorders Information Centre

Eating Disorders Action Group

Source: Eating Disorders. Enza Gucciardi, Nalan Celasun, Farah Ahmad and Donna E Stewart.
University Health Network Women's Health Program, University of Toronto, Published: 25 August 2004
BMC Women's Health 2004, 4(Suppl 1):S21 doi:10.1186/1472-6874-4-S1-S21

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