Eating Disorder is a mental illness characterised by abnormal eating habits; the affected may eat very little with excessive weight loss or eat too much or have other abnormal eating habits.
The condition can negatively affect the overall health of the individual. Eating Disorder is not common in the general population but it is there and has a significant mortality ratio. There are several types of Eating Disorder but three are most prominent. Eating Disorder is more common in the Western world and Asia, among high income earner; the prevalence globally ranges from less than 0.01 per cent to 4 per cent. Females aged 15-19 years are most affected; other groups with fairly prevalence include Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals. Caucasians are more affected than non-caucasians such as Africans and Hispanics/Latinos.
About 95 percent of cases are female; Eating Disorder is therefore, in the main a problem of young white female from middle- and upper- class.
The incidence of Anorexia nervosa has been on the increase in the last two decades but that of Bulimia nervosa has been on the decline.
We shall round up this year’s Eating Disorder Awareness week by discussing the possible complications of the condition.
1. Cardiovascular Problems
Consuming fewer calories than you need means that the body breaks down its own tissue to use for fuel. Muscles are some of the first organs broken down, and the most important muscle in the body is the heart. Pulse and blood pressure begin to drop as the heart has less fuel to pump blood and fewer cells to pump with. The risk for heart failure rises as the heart rate and blood pressure levels sink lower and lower.
Purging by vomiting or laxatives depletes your body of important chemicals called electrolytes. The electrolyte potassium plays an important role in helping the heart beat and muscles contract, but is often depleted by purging. Other electrolytes, such as sodium and chloride, can also become imbalanced by purging or by drinking excessive amounts of water. Electrolyte imbalances can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death.
2. Gastrointestinal problems
Food restriction and/or purging by vomiting interferes with normal stomach emptying and the digestion of nutrients, which can lead to Stomach pain and bloating, Nausea and vomiting, Blood sugar fluctuations and constipation. The latter could be due to inadequate nutritional intake, which means there’s not enough in the intestines for the body to try and eliminate and also weakening of the muscles of the intestines due to protein loss. Laxative abuse can lead to dependence..
3. Neurological problems
Though the brain weighs only three pounds, it consumes up to one-fifth of the body’s calories. Dieting, fasting, self-starvation, and/or erratic eating means the brain isn’t getting the energy it needs, which can lead to obsessing about food and difficulties concentrating.
Eating disorders can lead to poor sleep due to hunger pangs. Starvation, repeated vomiting can lead to low levels of such minerals as Potassium, Sodium, Chloride and Calcium, collectively called electrolytes. These electrolytes are essential for the normal functioning of the brain and nerves; when there is in balance in electrolyte level in the body coupled with lack of water, the person may suffer from seizures and muscle cramps.
4. Hormonal problems
The body makes many of its needed hormones with the fat and cholesterol we eat. Without enough fat and calories in the diet, levels of hormones can fall, including Sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone) and Thyroid hormones. Low hormone levels can affect normal body functions, could lead to bone loss, affect menstruation in women and Diabetes Mellitus.
Binge eating can lead to obesity with its possible complications of heart disease and type 2 Diabetes.
5. Reproductive System problems
Lowered production of sex hormones or non-production of same can lead to irregular menstruation, lack of menstruation and infertility.
6. Cold Intolerance
Poor intake of feed leads to low body which is responsible for heat conservation. Consequently the affected person is more sensitive to cold atmosphere. Also because of reduced body activities, the body temperature of someone with Eating Disorder is lower than average, a condition called Hypothermia.
Low caloric and fat consumption can cause dry scaly skin; hair becomes brittle and fall out.
To conserve warmth during periods of starvation, the body will grow fine, downy hair called lanugo. Anorexia nervosa and Bulimia nervosa can lead to protein-calorie malnutrition characterized by extreme weight loss, lack of body fat and muscle wasting. This can lead to fatigue, weakness and shortness of breath. Severe dehydration can lead to kidney failure. Anaemia is common. There is stunted growth and the immune system is weakened.
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8. Social problems
Several and serious social problems are associated with Eating Disorders; these include
a. Strained family ties — blame, fights over food , weight, treatment, family pressures, anxiety within the family etc.
b. Friendships and romantic relationships are damaged or destroyed.