Eating disorders are mental illnesses that affect a person's emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding food and weight. Defined by extremes, eating disorders range from eating too few calories, resulting in extreme weight loss, to eating too many calories, resulting in extreme weight gain. For years, eating disorders that caused extreme caloric restriction received more attention, though an increase in global obesity rates lends support to the idea that overeating is just as dangerous as undereating.
Symptoms of Common Eating Disorders
The three most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder. There is also a category of eating disorder called Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (ED-NOS). Each condition carries a unique set of symptoms.
Anorexia Nervosa: Patients with anorexia view their body as overweight, no matter how much weight they lose. Anorexics drastically cut calorie intake due to fear of food or fear of gaining weight. The condition may manifest to include extreme exercise and bulimia.
Bulimia Nervosa: Extreme hunger can lead to binge-eating followed by overwhelming feelings of disgust. Bulimics live the binge-eating/purge cycle daily, in most cases. After eating extraordinarily large amounts of food, the bulimic will purge or vomit to stop weight gain. In some cases laxatives are used in place of or in addition to purging.
Binge-Eating: Not all patients with eating disorders are thin. Extreme overeating or binging on food may be one of the most common forms of eating disorder. While binge-eating the patient feels a total loss of control over the amount of food they are consuming. Weight gain results and often leads to obesity or super obesity. Obesity is associated with increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and early death.
Pregnancy and Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are extremely dangerous for pregnant women, especially women suffering from anorexia and/or bulimia. It is estimated that nearly seven million women suffer from an eating disorder in the United States alone with symptoms peaking during reproductive years, according to the American Pregnancy Association. While both anorexia and bulimia can reduce fertility, pregnancy is possible. Pregnant women suffering from an eating disorder are at increased risk of:
- Low birth weight
- Premature delivery
- Fetal death
- Gestational diabetes
- Inhibited fetal growth
- Maternal Death
Successful Pregnancy with an Eating Disorder
If you find out you are pregnant when suffering from an eating disorder, seek help immediately. You can work with a nutritionist and psychologist to achieve normal weight gain while dealing with the issues causing the eating disorder. After delivery, maintain nutrition and counseling sessions to protect against relapse.