Eating Disorders

What Are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are psychological conditions with both emotional and physical symptoms. The disorders include anorexia nervosa (voluntary starvation), bulimia nervosa (binge-eating followed by purging), binge-eating disorder (binge-eating without purging), and unspecified eating disorders (disordered eating that does not fit into another category). 
Eating disorders occur frequently—but not exclusively—in affluent cultures. A disproportionate number of those diagnosed are young women in their teens and 20s, but anyone, including young men and older adults, can develop an eating disorder at any age. Among the most baffling of conditions, eating disorders take on a life of their own so that eating, or not eating, becomes the focus of everyday existence.
Biological factors, social pressure, and family history and dynamics are some of the factors associated with eating disorders. Culturally mediated body-image concerns and personality traits like perfectionism and obsessiveness also play a large role in eating disorders, which are often accompanied by depression and/or anxiety.
Treatment is never simple for these conditions. They often create multiple medical problems and can even be acutely life-threatening, requiring hospitalization and forced nourishment. It can take a multidisciplinary team of health professionals, including a psychotherapist, a medical doctor, and a specialized dietitian or nutritionist to bring about full recovery in someone with an eating disorder.

How Eating Disorders Begin
A disturbed relationship to food marks all eating disorders, as does emotional fragility. Since eating is a normal part of life, these are conditions marked by extremes. Eating disorders typically start out unnoticed––a person eats a little more or a little less food than usual. The urge to eat more or to eat less becomes increasingly compelling, until it can become the focus of a person's existence.
There is no single cause of any of the eating disorders, but they exist largely in affluent cultures where there is an abundance of food. No one knows why voluntary behaviors, such as eating smaller or larger than usual amounts of food, turn into an eating disorder for some people.
Biology plays a role: Appetite control and the regulation of food intake is highly complex, with many hormones in the brain and the body signaling hunger and satiety.
Culture is thought to also play a significant role, as women, especially, are pressured to fit an ideal of beauty that is increasingly defined by the sole criterion of body weight. Families contribute, too; parents who emphasize looks and/or dieting or who criticize their children's bodies are more likely to raise a child who develops an eating disorder.
Other circumstances figure in, too; the conditions can be triggered by stress, social difficulty, loneliness, depression, other unpleasant emotions, or by dieting itself.