Most of us probably associate eating disorders with teenage girls and young women, but an eating disorder can affect boys and young men too – as well as adults. Obvious changes in body weight and changes in eating habits can be the first visible signs to others that something is wrong. Sufferers often display age regression and immature behaviour too. An eating disorder can have many causes but its roots usually lie in family issues with parents, bullying or they can be as a result of abuse by relatives, parents or siblings.
There are three main eating disorders – anorexia nervosa (starving the body of food), bulimia nervosa (binging and then purging) and compulsive eating (an urge to eat excessively).
The signs of anorexia nervosa are typically extreme weight loss and self-induced vomiting. Sufferers will also sometimes use laxatives to help purge their body of nourishment. They have a distorted body image where what they see in the mirror is completely at odds with what the rest of the world sees – and in any case to them, overweight and unappealing. Many have low self-esteem and revert to being pre-pubescent, and for some females their periods may also stop.
Bulimia nervosa shares some of the symptoms of anorexia – a distorted body image, laxative abuse and self-induced vomiting. However, sufferers tend to maintain a normal body weight. To all intents and purposes, outwardly life appears to carry on as normal for the sufferer, and the secretive life of binge and purge may not be apparent even to those closest to them.
Compulsive eating is marked by excessive consumption of carbohydrates and unhealthy foods and sometimes of alcohol. There is a compulsion to eat constantly, and sufferers adopt a state of denial, and convince themselves of the merits of being ‘big and strong’ – and they of course gain weight.
There are some tell-tale signs that someone may be suffering from an eating disorder:
Some eating disorders can be treated with medication. For example, fluoxetine can be useful in treating bulimia. Counselling is very effective – either individually, or as group or family, if appropriate. Regular supervision of meals and weekly weighing (without revealing the results to the patient) are also good courses of action. In the first instance, sufferers should visit their GP who may then refer to a consultant psychiatrist with experience in treating eating disorders. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to admit patients to a specialist eating disorder unit.
The consultant psychiatrists at Private Psychiatry have many years’ experience in successfully treating sufferers of eating disorders. If you or someone close to you is struggling to overcome an eating disorder, please get in touch to make an appointment.