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It's not unusual for people to be careful about their diet, monitoring their fat and sugar intake and watching their calories. Being mindful about one's diet is not harmful. However, if one's attentiveness to diet and food becomes the center of one's life, it may be time to consider the possibility of an eating disorder.

General Information On Eating Disorders

Eating disorders - Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder are psychiatric illnesses that affect over five million American women and men. This figure may not seem terribly high until we realize that thousands of these people will die from the physical problems caused by these conditions.

Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia Nervosa is a disorder in which preoccupation with dieting and thinness leads to excessive weight loss. Anorexics have an intense fear of fat, and their preoccupation with food and weight often masks other underlying psychological problems. The individual may not acknowledge that his or her weight loss or restrictive eating is a problem. One percent of teenage girls in the U.S. develop anorexia nervosa and up to 10% of those may die as a result.

Danger Signs:

  • loss of a significant amount of weight
  • continuing to diet although thin
  • feeling fat, even after losing weight
  • intense fear of weight gain
  • loss of monthly menstrual periods
  • preoccupation with food, calories, fat contents & nutrition
  • preferring to diet in isolation
  • cooking for others
  • hair loss
  • cold hands and feet
  • fainting spells
  • growth of fine hairs
  • exercising compulsively
  • lying about food
  • paranoia
  • depression, anxiety
  • weakness, exhaustion
  • periods of hyperactivity
  • constipation
  • heart tremors
  • dry, brittle skin
  • shortness of breath
Medical Consequences:
  • shrunken organs
  • bone mineral loss, which can lead to osteoporosis
  • low body temperature
  • low blood pressure
  • slowed metabolism and reflexes
  • irregular heartbeat, which can lead to cardiac arrest

Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia Nervosa is described as a disorder in which frequent episodes of binge eating (rapid consumption of food in one sitting) are almost always followed by purging (ridding the body of food). Purging can involve vomiting, abusing laxatives and/or diuretics, exercising compulsively and/or fasting. Binging and purging is often followed by intense feelings of guilt and shame. The bulimic may not be visibly underweight and may even be slightly overweight. Like the anorexic, the bulimic uses self-destructive eating behaviors to deal with psychological problems that may go much deeper than her/his obsession with food and weight. Usually, the individual feels out of control and recognizes that the behavior is not normal. Up to 5% of college women in the U.S. are bulimic.

Danger Signs:
  • binging, or eating uncontrollably
  • purging by strict dieting, fasting, vigorous exercise, vomiting or abusing laxatives or diuretics in an attempt to lose weight
  • using the bathroom frequently after meals
  • preoccupation with body weight
  • depression
  • mood swings
  • feeling out of control
  • swollen glands in neck and face
  • heartburn
  • bloating
  • irregular periods
  • dental problems
  • constipation
  • indigestion
  • sore throat
  • vomiting blood
  • weakness, exhaustion
  • bloodshot eyes
Medical Consequences:
  • dehydration
  • damage to bowels, liver and kidney
  • electrolyte imbalance, which leads to irregular heartbeat, and in some cases, cardiac arrest

Binge Eating Disorder
Binge Eating Disorder or compulsive overeating, involves uncontrolled eating usually kept secret. People with this condition engage in frequent binges, but unlike bulimics, they do not purge afterward. Binges are usually followed by intense feelings of guilt and shame. Again, food is used as a dysfunctional means of coping with psychological problems. The individual often experiences depression and other psychological problems. Up to 40% of people who are obese may be binge eaters.

Danger Signs:
  • episodes of binge eating
  • eating when not physically hungry
  • frequent dieting feeling unable to stop eating voluntarily
  • awareness that eating patterns are abnormal
  • weight fluctuations
  • depressed mood
  • feeling ashamed
  • antisocial behavior
  • obesity
Medical Consequences:
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • gall bladder disease
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • certain types of cancer

Diet or Disorder? - It's A Thin Line

Researchers have found that stringent dieting can play a key role in triggering eating disorders. But sometimes it's difficult to tell when a person crosses over the line between a healthy weight loss program to an out-of-control problem. How can you tell the difference between normal dieting and a developing eating disorder?

Daily Calories Too Low
Stringent "starvation" diets are dangerous and can cause damage to muscles and organs, particularly the heart. Furthermore, extreme diets can trigger the body to enter starvation mode and make it more difficult to lose weight.

How many calories are safe in a weight loss diet? A rough rule of thumb -- calculate the number of calories based on the target weight times 100. For example if the goal is to reach and maintain 125 pounds, then your daily caloric intake should be 1,250 calories per day. Whatever the weight goal, a diet should include at least 1,000 calories a day unless closely supervised by a doctor.

Unbalanced Diet
We've all heard of the fad diets that have you eating only eggs and grapefruit, or only carbohydrates, or no carbohydrates. The safest, most effective approach to eating is to follow the food pyramid recommendations from the National Institute of Health - just have smaller servings. Even with a weight loss diet, a person needs a balance of fruits and vegetables, fats, dairy products, proteins, and carbohydrates to stay healthy.

Rapid Weight Loss
Research has shown that a healthy rate of weight loss is 2-4 pounds per week. While it is possible to lose weight more rapidly, you're less likely to keep the weight off in the long term. Severe dieting leaves the dieter feeling deprived and seems to promote the urge to binge.

Unending or "Yo-Yo" Dieting
A weight loss diet should be structured so that the dieter reaches their goal weight and maintains that weight with small fluctuations. Extreme weight swings or constant, on-going weight loss diets are warning signs that there may be abnormal eating patterns developing.

Diet Pills

Over-the-counter appetite suppressants are used widely with the lure of easy weight loss and quick energy. These appetite suppressants may contain a deadly ingredient, that is touted as 'perfectly natural and safe'. This 'natural' ingredient is called Ma Huang.

Ma Huang is an herb that contains a natural form of Ephedra, which is normally used to treat asthma and colds in the synthetic form. It constricts the blood vessels and speeds up the heart and nervous system. The side effect of this is loss of appetite, but the dangerous side effects are increased heart rate, insomnia, increased blood pressure, and nervousness.

The Food and Drug Administration has received reports of 60 deaths likely linked to Ephedra use and over 1200 reports of dieters who have had strokes, seizures and heart problems. They are now trying to regulate the use of Ma Huang by proposing warning labels for the supplement.

Perfection - The Barbie Doll?

They line the shelves in every toy store. They're on every child's Christmas list. They're Barbie and Ken, and they have the bodies that everyone desires.

So everyone longs for Barbie's hourglass figure or Ken's V-shaped muscular body. Why not? It drives girls to stare at themselves and pushes guys to pump themselves full of steroids, but the outcome looks terrific. If they don't conform to society's standards of the ideal body, the result would be more devastating than the negative effects of unhealthy habits. They would be shunned everywhere they went for being either plump or scrawny. No one wants to be an outcast, ostracized by those who are perfect in every way, shape, and form. They just want to fit in and look superficially perfect like everyone else.

But in this world, nothing comes for free, and being a replica of a plastic Mattel doll has its price. Anorexia brings about low blood pressure, a slower heart beat, growth of fine hairs, delayed puberty, and chemical disorders in the body, and it can often be fatal. Bulimia causes damage to teeth and gums from the acid in vomit, sore throats, dehydration, and gastrointestinal problems. The death rate from these eating disorders is 18 percent. Steroids may help increase muscles, but it leads to more aggressive behavior and liver cancer. But the negative effects this has on bodies is worth the cost, isn't it?

Mattel doesn't manufacture Barbie dolls that cry in an artificial voice, "Watch my body waste away!" or "I can make myself throw up!" when a button is pushed. A Ken doll doesn't come with liver cancer. If all someone wants is the perfect body, that's what they'll get. But that's not all. They'll also get all of the health complications too.