An Eating Disorder is a complex psychological and physical illness. It is a form of an addiction, and for that reason, requires attention on not only the physical aspect of the disorder, but also the psychological.
A doctor is required to monitor the severe medical consequences that come with the illness; a therapist is required to treat the psychological aspect of the disorder, and a nutritionist is needed to coach a teen on how to have a healthier relationship with food and eating.
The Medical Aspect of Eating Disorders
With a disease such as Anorexia Nervosa, where a teen is attempting to control her food intake, there is often too little food in the body.
Over time, the muscles and the tissues start to break down. An adolescent moves through cycles of self-starvation, denying the body essential nutrients it needs to function normally. The body is forced to slow down all of its processes in order to conserve energy, resulting in serious medical consequences such as:
- The heartbeat reduces to a very slow rate, causing low blood pressure and changes in the muscle of the heart. There is risk for heart failure as the blood pressure become lower and lower.
- Because of lack of nutrients the bone density weakens leading to Osteoporosis.
- There is muscle loss and weakness.
- Severe dehydration can cause kidney failure
- Because of overall weakness, there is fainting and fatigue.
- The dehydration causes dry hair and skin and there is excessive hair loss.
- Tendency to get cold easily.
- Hair might begin to grow on the body, a condition called lanugo, which happens as a way to keep the body warm.
With Bulimia Nervosa, losing the ability to control food intake, the medical consequences are slightly different because of the binging and purging that happens with this disorder.
The dysfunctional cycle between binging on food and then purging it affects the digestive system. Electrolytes are lost and there are severe chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions. Some of the medical consequences of Bulimia Nervosa include:
- There is a significant electrolyte imbalance, which in turn can lead to irregular heartbeats, heart failure, and even death.
- The overeating causes severe dehydration and the purging leads to loss of potassium, sodium, and chloride, and this causes the electrolyte imbalance.
- There is a potential for gastric rupture during periods of bingeing.
- There might be inflammation and even rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.
- Tooth decay can occur as well as staining from the stomach acids that are released during frequent vomiting.
- Because teens with this disorder tend to use laxatives as a way compensate for their binging, he or she might experience irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse.
The Psychological Aspect of Eating Disorders
The psychological aspect to eating disorders is essentially powerlessness and control. Depending on the type of disorder, whether it is Anorexia or Bulimia, that control is either excessive with food or it is entirely absent. However, essentially, somewhere a teen feels as though he or she does not have control over his or her and the attempt to find control gets played out in relationship to eating.
Interestingly, eating disorders are found exclusively in developed countries around the world. For women, sadly, her sense of self worth and self-acceptance is heavily influenced by the measurements of her chest and hips as well as the amount of body fat she carries. Unfortunately, looking good can have a higher priority for her than her physical and psychological health.
Females, in particular, are at the most risk for developing teen eating disorders. Of course, male adolescents and adults can also develop the disorder. They too are not strangers to social expectations for looking thin. But eating disorders are more common among females, and the onset for eating disorder as well as for body image disorders, such as body dysmorphic disorder, is during adolescence.
The Nutritional Aspect of Eating Disorders
Those with teen eating disorders will often experience anxiety, fear, or powerlessness around food. In treatment, he or she will need to form a better relationship with eating and food intake. To do this, the therapeutic experience might include sitting down for a meal. Having a teen hold food in her hands while talking to a nutritionist or therapist.
The nutritionist will also be assessing the body to be sure that she is getting all the nutrients she needs. Often, as stated above, the body is depleted of what it needs to function. Part of treatment is restoring the body and finding its optimal level of equilibrium and health.
In conclusion, the health consequences of eating disorders are serious. Perhaps, with enough public education, the prevalence of these disorders among teens will decrease.
Health Consequences of Eating Disorders. National Eating Disorder Association. Retrieved on May 7, 2014 from: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/health-consequences-eating-disorders