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Eating Disorders, Their Prevention and Treatment


Eating disorders are characterized by unusual feeding habits that could make an individual eat insufficient or excessive food. Eating disorders have been shown to have negative impacts on a person’s physical and mental health (Reel & Beals, 2009). Disordered eating refers to a collection of irregular eating habits. The habits could not necessarily lead to the diagnosis of eating disorders. However, disordered eating could have clinical significance in some cases. It has been shown that it is essential to differentiate eating disorders from disordered eating so that one could find the best way of managing and preventing unhealthy eating patterns. Eating disorders and disordered eating are caused by a number of factors. Some of the factors could be related to mental disorders, i.e. clinical depression. However, some cases of eating disorders and disordered eating are not caused by clinical depression (Keel & Klump, 2003; Striegel-Moore & Bulik, 2007).

Individuals who have negative perceptions about their body images have been shown to have higher chances of developing eating disorders than individuals who have positive perceptions about their body images (Reel & Beals, 2009). People who have negative perceptions about their body images are isolated, depressed, and obsessed with weight loss (Reel & Beals, 2009). In fact, these individuals do not like the way their bodies appear. They are ashamed that they have certain body shapes and body weights. They usually have low self-esteem which culminates in unhealthy mental and physical states (Reel & Beals, 2009). Whereas some people have thought that adopting diets aiming at preventing obesity often leads to the development of eating disorders, other people have opposed the argument. Several studies have been carried out to associate preventing obesity with developing eating disorders (Schwartz & Henderson, 2009; Reel, 2010). World cultures are not contributing factors towards the development of eating disorders (Keel & Klump, 2003). However, there are beliefs that some cultures could cause individuals to develop eating disorders.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is defined by episodes of uncontrollable eating and purging. It could also be characterized by eating excess food within a short period and expelling it from the stomach (purging). Purging is a way of getting rid of the consumed food through vomiting, spitting out chewed food materials, exercising excessively, and relaxing the stomach by the use of relaxants to expel food from the stomach. A person with bulimia nervosa aims to lose weight and reduce body size. It has been shown that bulimia nervosa is common in individuals who are clinically depressed. Persons with bulimia nervosa have alternating cycles of prolonged fasting, binge eating and purging. Biological causes could have genetic predispositions. Socially, many individuals could believe that a small body size and an average body weight lead to positive body image. Psychotherapy is one way of treating bulimia nervosa. Through the approach, individuals suffering from the eating disorder are taught to develop positive thoughts about their body images. It has been demonstrated that cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most effective way of treating bulimia nervosa. Pharmacological treatment is another way of managing bulimia nervosa. The approach uses antidepressants to reduce levels of clinical depression in individuals suffering from bulimia nervosa (Reel, 2010). However, overuse of antidepressants should be discouraged because it could lead to drug dependence.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia is an eating disorder defined by irregular food intake restriction caused by the fear of gaining weight. An individual who has anorexia nervosa believes that he or she could have imperfect body images by gaining weight. Patients presenting with anorexia nervosa could lack the energy essential for performing tasks. The lack of energy is a result of little food intake that is broken down to yield energy for the body. Research demonstrates that the eating disorder is experienced more by adolescents than adults. This could be attributed to the fact that adolescents are more concerned about their body images than adults. Females have more chances of developing anorexia nervosa than males (Schwartz & Henderson, 2009). The disorder could affect persons from any socioeconomic and cultural background. Many biological factors have been shown to cause anorexia nervosa. The factors could be obstetric complications, genetics, nutritional deficiencies, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and serotonin dysregulation. The eating disorder could be prevented by ensuring that the above factors do not impact individuals in the society (Schwartz & Henderson, 2009).

Four treatment methods have been shown to be effective in treating anorexia nervosa. Dietary approach is used to ensure that patients do not develop unhealthy body states as a result of eating small amounts of food (Reel, 2010). The approach may involve zinc supplementation, increase in food calories, essential fatty acids intake, nutrition counseling, and Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT). Medication is another approach that is used to treat anorexia nervosa by giving the patients drugs like olanzapine. Olanzapine has been demonstrated to minimize negative thoughts about food. Research demonstrates that therapy is an effective method of treating anorexia nervosa. The following types of therapies are used: family-based treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and cognitive remediation therapy. Alternative medicine is also used to manage anorexia nervosa patients. The most common alternative medicine approach that has shown significant efficacy is yoga.

Media and body image

Different forms of media have great impacts on people across the world. In particular, women are influenced by the media to have certain perceptions about their body images (Miller & Pumariega, 2001). The modern world has the following popular media: magazines, social media, and television. Through media, individuals are able to have a clear definition of beauty. In most cases, beauty is associated with thin bodies. As a result, many women have been impacted to develop some irregular eating habits so that they could have beautiful bodies. The irregular eating habits could result in eating disorders. The internet has provided an excellent platform on which people upload their photos. Social online platforms like Facebook enable people to create and manage their accounts. People could have several images of their bodies on Facebook pages. The images play great roles in influencing millions of people to have certain thoughts about body images. When patients present with eating disorders caused by the media influence, they should be advised to appreciate their body images. They should also be encouraged to stop comparing themselves with other people. Every person was created uniquely, and different people have different body images. However, social media will continue impacting millions of people to have certain body images. Whereas social media have benefited models in acquiring beautiful bodies, they have also caused eating disorders in thousands of people across the world. The eating disorders have impacted the health of individuals negatively (Miller & Pumariega, 2001).

Exercise and sports

When people participate in physical exercises, they often burn extra calories, and this culminates in weight loss (Hausenblas & Downs, 2001). Research demonstrates that athletes have better body images than people who do not participate in athletics. Patients presenting with eating disorders have often been found to participate in excessive sporting activities. They believe that excess physical activities could result in perfect body images. However, they end up burning too many calories and becoming thin. Such people should be advised to adopt moderate physical activities to keep fit. If they are too thin, they could be advised to stop engaging in physical activities for a while. Patients should be advised to adopt body exercises based on their physical states.

Beyond the stereotypes

Some stereotypes have negatively impacted many individuals with eating disorders across the world. Race has been shown to influence persons to develop eating disorders. For example, international groups might believe that the race of an individual determines the chances of developing eating disorders (Miller & Pumariega, 2001; Tiggemann, Martins & Kirkbride, 2007). However, this is not true because all human races have been demonstrated to have equal chances of developing eating disorders (Keel & Klump, 2003). Religion, gender identity, physical disabilities, and/or sexuality are the other stereotypes that are believed to cause eating disorders (Miller & Pumariega, 2001). However, all the stereotypes do not influence individuals to develop eating disorders. Individuals at risk of developing eating disorders as a result of stereotypes should be advised that stenotypes have no role to play in body images.


Hausenblas, H. A., & Downs, D. S. (2001). Comparison of body image between athletes and nonathletes: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology13(3), 323-339.

Keel, P. K., & Klump, K. L. (2003). Are eating disorders culture-bound syndromes? Implications for conceptualizing their etiology. Psychological bulletin, 129(5), 747.

Miller, M. N., & Pumariega, A. J. (2001). Culture and eating disorders: A historical and cross-cultural review. Psychiatry: Interpersonal and Biological Processes, 64(2), 93-110.

Reel, J. J. (2010). “Do’s and Don’ts” for Eating Disorder and Obesity Prevention in Community Settings. Utah’s Health: An Annual Review, 1(1), 58.

Reel, J.J., & Beals, K.A. (Ed.). (2009). The hidden faces of eating disorders and body image. Reston, VA: AAHPERD Pubs..

Schwartz, M. B., & Henderson, K. E. (2009). Does obesity prevention cause eating disorders?. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry48(8), 784-786.

Striegel-Moore, R. H., & Bulik, C. M. (2007). Risk factors for eating disorders. American Psychologist, 62(3), 181.

Tiggemann, M., Martins, Y., & Kirkbride, A. (2007). Oh to be lean and muscular: Body image ideals in gay and heterosexual men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity8(1), 15.

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