Eating disorders are potentially fatal illnesses and greatly misunderstood in our community. Eating disorders cross gender and age, with the average onset getting younger. It is important to remember that eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, with wide-ranging and serious medical complications. They are not a lifestyle choice.
The incidence of eating disorders across the total Australian population cannot be estimated due to insufficient data but International data indicates the following prevalence as being:
- Anorexia Nervosa
Women – 0.3%-1.5%, Men – 0.1%-0.5%
- Bulimia Nervosa
Women – 0.9%-2.1%, Men – 0.1%-1.1%
- Binge Eating Disorder
Women – 2.5%-4.5%, Men – 1.0%-3.0%
In fact, one in ten Australian women will suffer from an eating disorder- (check this stat. Cannot find literature to support this figure). Eating disorders statistically affect more women than men, however eating disorders may be underdiagnosed in men due to them being less likely to seek help for an illness that is often within the community regarded as a ‘women’s issue’. This is certainly untrue. Eating disorders are not gender specific. For instance, the incidence of binge eating disorder is equal in both males and females.
Another common misconception regarding eating disorders is that they are a fad, a diet gone wrong, or an attention-seeking attempt. This could not be further from the truth as eating disorders are serious,and in some cases, fatal mental illnesses which require psychological and/or physical intervention to promote recovery. The mortality rate for people suffering from Eating Disorders is 12 times higher than the annual death rate in females aged 15-24 years. Up to 10% of sufferers will die as a direct result of their illness. In the process of recovery,it is not uncommon for a person to move from one eating disorder to another, especially when the core issues underlying the illness have not been adequately addressed. For example somebody with Anorexia Nervosa may later develop Bulimia Nervosa or Binge Eating Disorder, and vice versa.
An eating disorder is a serious mental illness that involves preoccupation with control over one’s body weight, shape, eating and exercising. It is often linked with low self esteem and negative body image. Eating disorders develop as as a way of dealing with underlying unresolved emotional and psychological issues. They are in fact, coping strategies. Central to the mindset of Eating Disorder sufferers is very poor body image and self esteem
There are four different types of eating disorders, all with different characteristics and causes. The most commonly known eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS). EDNOS is the most commonly diagnosed Eating Disorder among the types.
Anorexia Nervosa (AN) has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. It is characterised by severe starvation and weight loss, sometimes with purging behaviours as well. An AN sufferer has a body weight 15% lower than normal and will have amenorrhea. Anorexia sufferers experience high body distortion and mistakenly believe and feel they are overweight, no matter how underweight they may actually be. Sufferers have an obsessive fear of gaining weight and tend to be intensely preoccupied with food, weight control and shape. . In conjunction with severe food restriction, obsessive and compulsive exercise may be introduced , in order to maintain a low weight or to encourage further weight loss.Anorexia Nervosa is usually developed during adolescence and generally has an earlier age of onset than Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder (the latter are often developed during late adolescence or early adulthood). However recent new research is indicating that key lifespan developmental stages, are potential trigger points for the development of Anorexia Nervosa in the female population, i.e. puberty, childbirth/post childbirth and menopause. Research and data on the onset of Anorexia for males is limited but there is evidence to suggest that one key trigger point may occur after a young male ceases to participate in organised sport or other similar activities, such as gymnastics or dance.
Bulimia Nervosa is characterised by recurrent binge eating episodes followed by compensatory behaviours such as self induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas and other medications, fasting and overexercising. A binge episode involves consuming a large amount of food in a short period of time, whilst also experiencing a loss of control and intense feelings of guilt. Bulimia is a secretive disorder – it is common for suffers of Bulimia to keep their illness hidden for up to ten years.
A person with Bulimia Nervosa usually maintains an average weight, or may be slightly above or below average weight for height, which often makes it less recognisable than serious cases of Anorexia Nervosa. Many people, including some health professionals, incorrectly assume that a person must be underweight and thin if they have an eating disorder. Because of this, Bulimia Nervosa is often missed and can go undetected for a long period of time.
Approximately 880,000 Australians suffer from Binge Eating Disorder. (? Cannot find lit to support this stat) Binge Eating Disorder is characterised by periods of binge eating without compensatory behaviours. Bingeing normally involves eating excessive amounts of food, often when not hungry, followed by intense feelings of guilt, depression and shame. Bingeing often serves as a distraction for someone to avoid thinking about underlying emotional difficulties.
Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) is a term used to describe an atypical presentation of an eating disorder that does not meet all of the diagnostic criteria for anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. For example, a person could show all of the psychological signs of anorexia and be losing weight, but still be menstruating and is not yet underweight for their height. Another example is someone who exercises excessively and consumes large quantities of protein.
This does not mean in any way that someone experiencing an EDNOS is any less unwell or deserving of help. EDNOS are very serious conditions that require professional treatment and support and as noted, are the most commonly diagnosed of all the Eating Disorder types.