Eating Disorders: What You Should Know

Thin woman stands on a scaleThis past week was National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Though posts are usually added at the beginning of weeks like this, Latino Doctor feels that by adding this article at the end of the week, we stand beside this issue that should have awareness brought to it every day of the year.

Eating disorders are just as prevalent among Latinos as they are among the general population. Recent studies have shown that Latinas might even be hit harder due to body shape, acculturation and trying to fit into the “norm.”

Studies have shown that issues fall into four themes: (a) cultural disparities in body-ideal, including the influence of the media and acculturation issues; (b) messages about body shape and weight received by family, peers, and society; (c) difficulties making healthy eating and physical activity choices as a function of college life; and (d) the influence of peers and potential male partners on body satisfaction and body-ideals.

Eating disorders fall under arrays of categories and bring along with them an array of extenuating health issues besides that of losing weight.

Of the most talked about eating disorders, bulimia is the most common among Americans, and can lead to electrolyte imbalance that may lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and even death. In addition, bulimia may also lead to tooth decay, rupturing of the esophagus from frequent vomiting, peptic ulcers and pancreatitis.

Anorexia can lead to abnormally low heart rate and low blood pressure, which means the heart muscle is changing. The risk for heart failure rises as blood pressure sinks. Dry hair and skin and hair loss also happens to those suffering from the eating disorder, among other things.

However physical the repercussions of these issues are, the cause for most of them are tied to the psychological issues that deal directly with body image and self-esteem. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, eating disorders include extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues, and can lead to life threatening instances in both men and women.

Nonetheless, chance for recovery from any eating disorder increases the earlier it is detected. It is important to be aware of all signs of these disorders.

In research done by the association, they have found that approximately a half a million adolescents suffer from eating disorders. Furthermore, it appears the gender and ethnicity gap is closing in disordered eating, and prevention programs should also incorporate educational strategies targeting these often underrepresented populations in eating disorder research and treatment.

Risk of death from suicide or medical complications is markedly increased for eating disorders.

The main disorders that are talked about more often than others are:

Bulimia Nervosa: Characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.

Symptoms include: Regular intake of large amounts of food accompanied by a sense of loss of control over eating behavior; regular use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors such as self induced vomiting, laxative or diuretic abuse, fasting and obsessive or compulsive exercise; extreme concern with body weight and shape.

Warning signs include:

Evidence of binge eating
Evidence of purging behaviors, including frequent trips to the bathroom after meals
Excessive, rigid exercise regimen
Unusual swelling of cheeks or jaw area
Discoloration or staining of teeth

Anorexia Nervosa: Characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.
Symptoms include resistance to maintaining body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height; intense fear of being “fat” even though underweight.

Warning signs include:

Dramatic weight loss
Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams and dieting
Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food
Denial of hunger
Consistent excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food

Binge Eating: Characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of compensatory measures to counter the binge eating. BED is often associated with symptoms of depression.

Symptoms include: Frequent episodes of eating large quantities of food in short periods of time; feeling out of control over eating behavior during the episode; feeling depressed, guilty or disgusted by the behavior; emotional eating.

Consequences include:

High blood pressure
High cholesterol levels
Heart disease
Gallbladder disease