Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions characterized by an individual’s unhealthy relationship with food and their body.

Sometimes, these problems lead to fatal outcomes. They often involve a preoccupation with food, weight, and body shape that leads to significant disturbances in eating behaviours which can have severe physical and emotional consequences.

And this is largely because such a preoccupation with food and body weight or body size engender a range of psychological conditions that could develop in the affected individual to the extent that it endangers their overall health. There are several common types of eating disorders, and these have been found to begin with an obsession involving any of the features mentioned above. These include the following.


Anorexia nervosa is the first disorder we shall consider: This is probably the most well-known disorder. It generally develops during adolescence or early adulthood and tends to affect more females than males. It involves a distorted body image and an intense fear of gaining weight, leading to extreme efforts to control food intake and weight, thereby resulting in severe weight loss. Added to it is the tendency to engage in too much exercising because these people often view themselves as being overweight even when they are dangerously underweight. The common symptoms of this condition are as follows;


1, a)An intense fear of gaining weight or indulging in a persistent behaviour pattern to avoid gaining weight even when the individual is already underweight.

2, b) A relentless pursuit of a thin body frame.

3, c) Very restricted eating patterns.

4, d) A distorted image of themselves such that they will even deny that they are underweight.

5, e) A huge influence of the perceived body weight or body shape on their self-esteem.

Obsessive compulsive symptoms are also likely to be present in these individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. This can be a very damaging condition to the individual and over the course of time, the bones may become thin with associated loss of hair, development of brittle nails and infertility. In severe cases, the heart, brain and multiple organ failure can also result with death being a final consequence if the condition is left untreated.


The second disorder we shall consider is Bulimia nervosa: Individuals with bulimia engage in episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviours such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, or excessive exercise. Like anorexia nervosa, it tends to develop during adolescence and early adulthood. It is also more common in females than in males. Affected people often consume huge amounts of food at specific periods of time, and each binge eating tends to go on until the person becomes painfully full. During a binge, the person would feel that they cannot control the amount of food they eat, and this can involve any kind of food. Afterwards, the person would feel the need to induce vomiting or use a purgative in order to relieve the discomfort in the abdomen. Other similar behaviours geared towards the relief of symptoms are fasting, the use of enemas, laxatives, excessive exercise and diuretics to attempt to control their weight. Some of the common symptoms of this condition are as follows;

a) A self-esteem excessively influenced by body weight and shape.

b) Recurrent episodes of inappropriate purging acts to prevent weight gain

c) Recurrent episodes of binge eating with an associated feeling of a lack of control.

d) A morbid fear of gaining weight even when the weight is found to be normal.

The third one of these disorders is called Binge eating disorder: People with this disorder frequently consume large amounts of food in a short period and feel a lack of control during these episodes. Unlike bulimia, they do not engage in compensatory behaviours such as purging or vomiting to control the excess calories they might have consumed. People with this particular disorder often consume an excessive amount of food without any consideration for the nutritional value of such food. Such an attitude may increase their risk of developing medical complications such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke. The common symptoms of this condition are as follows;


a) Feeling of a lack of control during episodes of binge eating.

b) Eating a large amount of food rapidly, often in hiding, until there is uncomfortable fullness despite not being hungry in the first place.

c) There are feelings of shame, guilt, disgust and distress anytime they think of their binge eating behaviour.

d) They usually do not indulge in excessive exercises, vomiting, purgation with laxatives or diuretics to compensative for their binge eating.

The fourth eating disorder worthy of consideration is known as Pica. This is a bizarre problem that is characterized by the eating of substances and materials which are not considered to be food and thus have no nutritional value. People with pica crave to eat non-food substances like sand, chalk, hair, soap, pebbles, paper, laundry detergent and pieces of cloth. It is seen in children, adolescents and adults, and affects people who suffer from certain intellectual disabilities and developmental setbacks seen in some aspects of autism. This may also be seen in some mental health conditions like schizophrenia. And people who suffer from this condition could be at risk for suffering from poisoning, nutritional deficiencies especially iron deficiency anaemia, and possible injuries to the intestinal lining depending on what has been swallowed. Sometimes, this condition can also be fatal. It is clear, therefore, that for this condition to be so considered as Pica, the consumption of such non-food substances must be neither cultural nor religious to the person involved and it should not be the result of peer pressure. Such consumption has to be totally voluntary.


There is a little-known eating disorder that has been newly described known as Rumination disorder. It is also seen in children, adolescents and adults and occurs within the first 30 minutes of eating a meal, when the involved individual regurgitates food that they have previously chewed and swallowed, rechews such food and then swallows it again or spits it out. This is a condition often seen in the group of animals known as ruminants who often do so in order to provide supplementary food for their young or make way for a more complete digestion of certain foods such as grass. To find a human being doing so can be distressing to both the parents of a young child and its relatives and other carers. It will lead to significant weight loss if not resolved in infancy and childhood. In adults, there may be restriction in the amount of food consumed especially in public in an attempt to avoid embarrassment. This may lead them to lose weight and become underweight.


Finally, there are those eating disorders classified as Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED): This category includes eating disorders that do not meet the specific criteria for anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder but still involve disordered eating patterns and significant distress. Eating disorders can have serious physical health effects, including malnutrition, electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, and heart complications. They also have a profound impact on mental health, often coexisting with conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Treatment for eating disorders typically involves a combination of medical care, nutritional counseling, and psychotherapy, often including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary to address medical complications and ensure the safety of the individual. It is important for individuals struggling with eating disorders to seek professional help as early as possible, as these conditions can have long-lasting effects if left untreated.



Dr. Sylvester Ikhisemojie

@ Punch Newspaper

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