Eating disorders go beyond the inability to say no to a third helping of pie. They are characterized by abnormal attitudes and behavior towards food.
One of the most well known eating disorders is Anorexia Nervosa, which claimed the life of singer Karen Carpenter. Anorexics are terrified of gaining weight. They starve themselves, but though they shed pounds, their distorted perceptual image of themselves leads them to believe that they are still fat. Nutritional deprivation first emerges as fatigue, muscle weakness, dry skin, brittle hair. As anorexia goes undetected, the damage to the body becomes more severe: osteoperosis, malfunction of the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract, slow heartbeat, low blood pressure, palpitations, and even heart failure.
Unlike anorexia, which is the rejection of food, bulimia is characterized by binging episodes followed by induced vomiting. Most bulimics binge as a source of comfort and release, and then purge to avoid gaining the weight associated with normal high-caloric intake. Bulimia can lead to damage of the gastrointestinal tract and the teeth (due to the acids in regurgitated food).
Other common eating disorders include compulsive eating (perhaps the most common disorder) as a coping method and compulsive binging as well as the use of various laxatives, diuretics and other diet pills to aid in weight loss.
Though not as common or as well-known as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, the eating disorder pica is the desire to eat non-food substances like plaster, paper, and cloth. The term is Latin for magpie, a bird once thought to subsist on clay and dirt. The condition can be a symptom of other mental disorders, poverty or abuse.
Web Resources On Eating Disorders
Mirror, Mirror: Eating Disorders
MedLinePlus: Eating Disorders
Book Resources On Eating Disorders
Eating Disorders: A Guide to Medical Care and Complications by Mehler & Andersen
Eating Disorders: Obesity, Anorexia Nervosa, and the Person Within by Hilda Bruch