About the Psychological Effects of Eating Disorders

Written by gigi starr
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About the Psychological Effects of Eating Disorders
(2008 Ligadier Truffaut / Creative Commons)

Eating disorders are not only tough on the body, but also on the mind. Symptoms can develop over time and wreak havoc on the sufferer's life. Without professional intervention, things can quickly spiral out of control, putting the sufferer's life in danger. Eating disorders are serious business and merit a close look.

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Significance

Eating disorders are physical and psychologically trying conditions. They are the byproduct of low self-esteem as well as a need for control. Eating disorders inflict both long- and short-term damage on the sufferer's mental health. Victims may suffer from affected eating for the rest of their lives, since disordered eating is a habit much like smoking or alcoholism. Therefore, an eating disorder is a life-changing medical condition that calls for counselling and significant lifestyle modification in order for healing to occur.

Function

An eating disorder sets up a feeling of power, achievement and control in the sufferer. Whether it's binging, purging or fasting, the act of giving in to the disorder gives a paradoxical sense of accomplishment and failure. These feelings are only fleeting; the sense of perfectionism that many eating disorder victims carry prevents them from any sort of long-term satisfaction.

Disordered eating may also be a way to fit in with a particular social group. These days, the media teaches young women that abject thinness is the only way to go. Because of this message, many girls coordinate with friends to lose weight, going into fierce competition at a time when the female body is settling into its more womanly curves. This turns into a race to the bottom for teens and other young people.

Third, people may fall into disordered eating for professional purposes. Dancers, gymnasts, actors and models are pressured by their industries to stay skinny at all costs. Too much fat means less work and reduced income. Therefore, they fall into unhealthy patterns that lead to disordered eating over time.

About the Psychological Effects of Eating Disorders
2008 bejealousofme / Creative Commons

Time Frame

Since eating disorders begin in the mind and manifest through self-destructive behaviours, the mental effects are immediate. However, there are other symptoms that will reveal themselves as the disorder progresses. Sufferers may become grouchy and moody as their blood-sugar levels fluctuate. There will be plenty of secrecy as the almost obsessive need to hide their behaviour and stay "perfect" in others' eyes overtakes them. Within months, forgetfulness will result from the brain being starved of valuable nutrition. Feelings of shame, guilt and disgust are always there. An eating disorder is a constant mental battle.

Geography

Eating disorders are mostly found in wealthy first-world nations such as the United States, Canada and Great Britain. Once called "rich person's diseases," they have now started to filter down into lower-income communities. Both men and women suffer from them, although most known victims are female. In countries where the slender Caucasian ideal is touted, disordered eating is on the rise. Disordered eating occurs anywhere there is elite sport, as well; a high amount of professional athletes suffer from eating disorders.

Prevention/Solution

The best prevention for eating disorders is education and high self-esteem. Young people need to know that it's OK to be imperfect, and that their bodies are beautiful the way they are. It's also a good idea to teach kids to scrutinise the media with a critical eye to filter out unrealistic images.

If a child is involved in sports or ballet, make sure to emphasise process-centred satisfaction, rather than outcome-oriented thinking. This will serve to help kids bounce back from disappointments without taking them as a personal indictment.

Warning

Danger signs for eating disorders include rampant perfectionism, self-loathing, irritability or feelings of failure. Those suffering from depression or thoughts of self-harm need to contact help immediately. Allowing those thoughts to fester creates a fertile environment for trouble. Contact a trusted friend, health centre or clinic for more information on getting help, including low-cost options if necessary. Eating disorders thrive on feelings of isolation and loneliness, so don't hesitate to reach out to someone who cares.

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