Keys to Understanding Eating Disorders

A review of the characteristics of this type of psychological alterations.

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Throughout history, body image has been determined by society and culture. In the western world, this image has acquired such a fundamental value that since the last decades of the twentieth century a total cult of the body has been practiced.

It is in this context that some of the most devastating pathologies of the late twentieth century and early twenty-first, such as eating disorders (ACT) have emerged.

The feeding behavior

Food behavior is molded from the beginning of life. It is through the interactions of the child and the food with the environment that certain determined eating habits are created.

It is important that the child learn to distinguish the different physiological signals such as hunger, satiety or self-regulation of the intake, creating an adequate eating behavior, defined as, the normal behavior related to eating habits, food intake, quantities, frequency…

Children usually integrate feeding habits and practices around 5 years of age, creating different modes and preferences of feeding. Mothers, parents and caregivers play a fundamental role in the education of healthy dietary guidelines, which function as protection factors against future risks.

Eating Disorders (TCA)

Eating disorders are characterized by a pathological behavior related to an abnormal pattern of food intake, on the one hand, and an obsession to keep body weight under control, on the other.

They involve complex mental disorders, affecting mainly adolescents and young women. These pathologies are characterized by the severity of the associated symptoms, high resistance to treatment and risk of relapse.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has placed the ACT among mental illnesses of priority for children and adolescents given the health risk involved. The most well-known TCAs are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, but there are others, such as binge eating disorder, or drunkorexia.

Types of TCA

The main types of eating disorders are the following.

1. Nervous Anorexia

It is a disorder characterized by a weight loss induced or maintained by the same patient. There is an intense fear of gaining weight or getting fat.

The person perceives an overweight despite having a weight below what is considered normal. The methods used to lose weight are the manipulation of diet, exercise (75%), and induced vomiting (20%).

2. Bulimia Nervosa

It is characterized by an exaggerated concern for body image and repeated episodes of excessive food intake; as a result of this the person adopts drastic measures to compensate the compulsive intake.

The patient has recurrent binge eating, a feeling of loss of control, and inappropriate compensatory behaviors (self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, enemas or other medications, fasting, excessive exercises…).

3. Binge Eating Disorder

Like bulimia nervosa, this disorder is characterized by compulsive and recurrent ingestion. The main difference is that the person does not perform compensatory behaviors (laxatives, fasting, vomiting …).

One of the most common consequences is weight gain or obesity, along with associated risks (diabetes, cholesterol, etc.).

4. Drunkorexia

The drunkorexia or ebriorexia emerges as a new food problem; people who suffer from it stop eating to try to compensate for the calories they ingest with alcohol. To the dangers of anorexia are added the consumption of this drug.

The severity of the disorder will depend, on the one hand, on the degree of addiction to alcohol, and on the other, on the severity of the anorexia.

Risk factor’s

Risk factors facilitate the onset of any type of disorder, including an eating disorder.

  • Individual factors: family history; Personality traits; low self-esteem; negative body image, etc.
  • Family factors: lack of family structure; controlling and demanding environment; stressful life experiences, etc.
  • Social factors: unreal beauty canon; media demand; sports or activities, etc.

Protection and Treatment Factors

According to the psychologist of the Psicólogos Málaga PsicoAbreu, Isabel Sánchez Montero, fostering a positive body image and good self-esteem is one of the main objectives for the prevention and treatment of an ACT. In addition, there are several factors to consider.

1. The media

The media are an instrument of influence on aspects related to the health of the population and, especially, with eating disorders.

Therefore, something very important in the prevention of this type of disorder is the collaboration with the media in order to promote a realistic and healthy image.

2. Personal empowerment

There are authors who propose that an important point in prevention, would be to highlight sociocultural influences and to recognize the importance of self-esteem, self-control and the strength of these people.

3. Team work

The treatment that the TCA demands is developed within a multidisciplinary team, formed by different specialists: doctors, psychologists, nurses, educators, etc. The objectives of psychological treatment go through:

  • Help in the normalization of weight.
  • Family counseling
  • Learn healthy eating habits.
  • Educate in emotions (recognize, regulate and express emotions appropriately).
  • Learning to contact and travel painful private events (thoughts, emotions, physical sensations).
  • Recognize avoidant patterns and develop effective coping patterns.
  • Prevent relapses.