Eating Disorders, The Silent Killer

Table of Content

“Feeling guilty for eating when you’re hungry is like feeling for breathing when your lungs need oxygen. We’ve literally been taught to be ashamed of our basic human needs. Refuse to feel shame. You are allowed to eat.” -Anonymous. An eating disorder is a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits (merrium-webster). They are the silent killers of the United States. According to the, an organization for eating disorder health, roughly 70 million people suffer from an eating disorder worldwide. Even with the alarmingly high number people affected by eating disorders, this number is not accurate due to the amount of suffers to whom have not come forward about their disorders in fear of being shamed or feeling guilty about it. Eating disorders are the silent killers in the world simply due to their ability to hide within the individual suffering. The stereotypes that surround each eating disorder are very predominate.

With anorexia comes the stereotype of thin figures along with being only females. Bulimics come with the stereotypes of rotten teeth and thicker figures. Binge-Eaters’ stereotypes are that they are overweight and addicted to food like drugs, and the other eating disorders that fall under Eating Disorders NOS (not otherwise specified) qualify for the stereotype of “they are just saying that for attention.” It is stereotypes such as these that keep individuals battling these silent demons in the shadows, preventing them to get the help they both need and deserve. No one should have to be held captive in their minds by the images of their bodies. Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating disorder, and Eating Disorders (not otherwise specified) are our focal points. In addition to the definitions of each eating disorder, we will discuss the warning signs and symptoms, treatment and the different systems affected. The depth of an eating disorder goes far past the physical appearance. The effects eating disorders have on your health is immense. They do not affect just one body system, they effect multiple at a time.

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First, Anorexia Nervosa is an emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat (merruim-webster). The Greek word an- means without and the Greek word –orexis means appetite. Anorexia Nervosa doesn’t only affect young women, it also affects men and women of all ages. Anorexia Nervosa has one of the highest mortality rates in psychiatric disorders, and estimated 50-80% of the risk of developing Anorexia Nervosa is genetic. Anorexia is frequently a symptom of a mood disorder, such as depression. 50% of the risk for the illness is genetic, and 50% of patients have anxiety disorders, including OCD. Studies show that patients with anorexia are high achievers, or perfectionists, as well as athletes, such as ballet, figure skating, gymnastics, and cheerleading. It is most common in ballet because the dancers are constantly surrounded by mirrors, and are more compelled to compare themselves to other dancers in the room, as well as spending many hours of the day exercising and practicing in order to conform to the stereotypical image of a ballerina. This eating disorder specifically is a tricky one to track down in individuals suffering. Many times the ones who suffer have become very strategic on keeping their addiction secret. Despite that fact, the warning signs and symptoms are there if you know where to look. The most common warning signs include the following: Abnormally low weight, excessive exercising or an extreme fear of gaining weight, and intake restriction (citation). These warning signs and symptoms are not always blatantly obvious however. They can hide under layers of doubt and low self-esteem.

The first warning sign and symptom may also never show. Anorexia is a complex disorder in which the mind battles the body in a fight for what’s right. As a result of this battle within come potentially serious medical issues. Someone who suffers from anorexia and goes un-treated can damage many bodily systems such as the Endocrine, Integumentary, Musculoskeletal, Cardiovascular, and Gastrointestinal systems. To start, the Endocrine system takes the most damage. Females who have an abnormally low body weight due to anorexia have an increased risk of affecting the menstrual cycle and even losing it. They also have a heightened risk of becoming infertile. Following the Endocrine system being affected is the Integumentary system. The skin is affected when the body has dropped under a certain weight. In efforts to keep the body warm lanugo comes into effect. Lanugo specifically is a hair that is soft and downy. It is very common in fetuses in the womb to keep the body warm. When the bodies weight is too low, Lanugo occurs in effort to protect itself against heat loss that is associated with extreme weight loss.

It produces more hair in effort to keep the body warm. The musculoskeletal system is affected as well. Anorexia Nervosa can cause a reduction in bone mass density and reabsorption. In addition to this, bone erosion is also a problem with this deadly disorder. The cardiovascular system takes a hard hit with Anorexia as well. Most individuals who suffer from Anorexia are at a heightened risk for developing bradycardia and with bradycardia comes low blood pressure as well. Deteriorating heart muscle is also something individuals may experience, that and the potential loss of constrictive abilities in the blood vessels surrounding the heart may counter the possibility of low blood pressure and replace it with high blood pressure. All the of possibilities listed above can also lead to heart failure. The Nervous system is greatly affected as well. Obsessive rituals and intense habits, such as restriction and working out start to warp the mind to become captive to the disorder itself. Poor body image can, and almost always will, result in low self-esteem, heightened anxiety, and depression. Finally, the gastrointestinal system and how it’s affected by Anorexia Nervosa. The constant and intense restriction of food intake in individuals who suffer from Anorexia can cause muscle atrophy of the digestive system and can result in Gastroparesis. Treatments are available to individuals who suffer from Anorexia Nervosa. The ANAD has a treatment directory available in which you can find different treatment centers depending on your area. Treatment is not limited to in-patient rehab centers, but also includes therapy, out-patient, and rehabilitation camps.

Second, is Bulimia Nervosa. Bulimia Nervosa an emotional disorder involving distortion of body image and an obsessive desire to lose weight, in which bouts of extreme overeating are followed by depression and self-induced vomiting, purging, or fasting (merrium-webster). The Greek word bous- means ox, and the Greek word –limous means hunger, together they mean Ravenous Hunger. Bulimia Nervosa is another complex and in-depth eating disorder. Unlike Anorexia Nervosa, an individual suffering from Bulimia Nervosa’s weight with fluctuate frequently, increasing and decreasing. Which makes this one another eating disorder that isn’t exactly easy to track down. Bulimia nervosa is a disorder characterized by a cycle of binge eating, and induced vomiting. The DSM-5 criteria for bulimia calls for eating in a discrete period of time, as well as eating a significantly larger amount of food than the average person would consume in that amount of time, behaviors that prevent weight gain. The warning signs and symptoms of the disorder of Bulimia include the following: Evidence of purging behaviors such as frequent trips to the bathroom after consuming large quantities of food, signs and/or smells of vomiting, the use of laxatives and diuretics along with their wrappers being found, disappearing after eating, and hoarding or stealing food and storing it (citation). The purging habit of Bulimia Nervosa makes it one of the deadlier of the eating disorders. The effects of purging on the body attacks many different systems. Similarly, to Anorexia, the systems affected are the same. However, they are affected in different ways.

The Endocrine system is affected the same in a Bulimic as in an Anorexic. If the individual suffering from Bulimia drops to a dangerously low weight, the menstrual cycle can be disrupted and even lost with the weight loss. If the weight is gained, it could produce heavier periods. Integumentary system, unlike Anorexia does not result in the Lanugo hair, rather an erosion or irritation of the skin of skin protecting the knuckles on the hands are effects. When forced vomiting is occurring most abusers are using their fingers to induce it. The teeth can rub constantly against the skin, and the acid from the stomach can cause a break down. You will often see individuals suffering from Bulimia Nervosa with dry, cracked hands, and yellowed nail beds. The musculoskeletal system takes a hard hit as well. The vomit from self-induced purging is often high in acidity, which can gradually, over time, erode the teeth and cause them to become frail and yellowed. With the repeated self-induced episodes of vomiting, dehydration can occur causing risk for hypotension, blood-pressure changes, tachycardia, and postural pulse, all of which can lead to increased risk for cardiac arrest and heart failure (citation). The Gastrointestinal system is the system that is the most affected by Bulimia Nervosa. Acute sialadenitis can occur within the individual, along with acid reflux.

The most deadly part of purging is development of acid reflux. When this is a predominate problem in an individual with Bulimia Nervosa, the esophagus itself become weaker and the repeated offenses of purging can lead to an erosion of the esophagus. If the purging is consistent enough, the acid from the stomach could eat through the esophagus, potentially leading to death if not treated and taken care of. Finally the affects of Bulimia Nervosa on the Nervous system is very similar to Anorexia, as the two are often found linked together like best friends who are insperable. The immense feelings of guilt when eating and feeling like control is lost can also result in depression, low self-esteem, and heightened anxiety. Like Anorexia Nervosa treatment centers for Bulimia Nervosa line the United States. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has a tab devoted to treatment centers near your location. Treatment is very similar to the treatment for Anorexia Nervosa and includes the following, in-patient, out-patient, therapy, rehabilitation centers, and groups.

Next, Binge-Eating Disorder. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, NEDA, Binge-Eating disorder is defined by episodes of recurrent spells of consuming larger quantities of food, followed by immense waves of guilt and feeling like all control is lost. Binge-Eating was just recently added to the list of eating disorders in which are recognized solely and do not fall under the umbrella term, Eating Disorder NOS. Binge-Eating disorder is also the most common eating disorder among individuals in the United States alone (citation). The warning signs and symptoms of Binge-Eating disorder aren’t always easy to spot. It is common for people to mistake Binge-Eating disorder with people being “foodies.” Like most “foodies,” individuals who suffer from Binge-Eating Disorder, face struggles with eating quicker than the average person, eating to the point where being full is uncomfortable, and eating copious amounts of food. In addition to this, Binge-Eating Disorder visual symptoms emotional signs and symptoms are present as well.

After an individual consumes the large amounts of food, the often experience guilt and shame. They will take part in different diet fads, along with the desire to steal and/or hoard food. The different systems effected include the Gastrointestinal system and the Nervous system. The gastrointestinal gets hit the hardest with this specific eating disorder. Individuals who suffer from Binge-Eating disorder often experience weight fluctuation know as yo-yo dieting, falling under different weight stigmas, and experiencing clinical obesity. Like all eating disorders, the Nervous system is impacted. Many who are characterized by eating disorders suffer from struggle with their body image. A Binge-Eater is likely to have lowered self-esteem, increased feelings of guilt, and symptoms of depression that are later onset.

Lastly, we come full circle to the umbrella term of Eating Disorders NOS. The remaining types of eating disorders that aren’t as commonly recognized fall under this umbrella term. Eating Disorders aren’t limited to ones listed above, they come in all shapes and sizes. Over the last few years, the umbrella term has shifted from Eating Disorders NOS to the term Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders. These include things such as Atypical Anorexia Nervosa, Purging Disorder, Night Eating Syndrome, and Body Dysmorphia. Atypical Anorexia Nervosa, according to NEDA, meets all of the different criteria of regular Anorexia Nervosa with an exception of weight being a problem. Individuals who suffer from Atypical Anorexia Nervosa are within or above the normal weight range (NEDA). Purging Disorder is characterized the recurrent episodes of purging to contribute to weight and shape with the binging aspect of the cycle absent. Night Eating Syndrome is characterized by reoccurring spells of comsuming copious amounts of food after waking up from sleep or after the last meal of the day. Body Dysmorphia on the other hand is not necessarily an eating disorder, rather than the result of. Body Dysmorphia is a distorted image of one’s self. This Eating Disorder NOS can result in individuals who have suffered from an eating disorder to recognize their bodies in dier states, and can cause them to appear bigger than they really are, or smaller than they really are.

While researching the content for this final paper, an interview was conducted on 19 year-old Jane Doe about her experience battling an eating disorder. Jane Doe was diagnosed in 2012 with Acute Anorexia Nervosa. Her weight at the time was only 130 pounds, and for her height of 5’3. “For awhile I was happy with my weight and my body, but my high school bully killed all chances of hope in positive body image, and the media just covered the whole where it lies,” said Jane Doe. She also talked about her experience dealing with Anorexia Nervosa.

“Dealing with Anorexia Nervosa was like dealing with a cold you didn’t know you had until it got bad. I always referred to her as ANA. She was always with me. She sat on my shoulder like the angel and demon, only she only played the devils advocate. I started off by taking advanced Physical Education in high school, followed by switching my diet to veganism. I cut out water and sugary snacks. Pretty soon I was working out until I blacked out and not touching any of my food because it wasn’t “vegan.” It was easy to hide my illness with ANA by my side, and ten months later we were rocking double zeros and living off diet coke.”

Jane Doe also came fourth about how her battle with anorexia has affected her long term, and the different bodily systems that were affected during her time battling with “ANA.” According to Jane Doe, her Nervous System was affected the most. She spoke about her experience in school and how outgoing she was before starting her battle. After the Anorexia Nervosa set in, she developed heightened anxiety and severe body dysmorphia in which she still battles today.

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Eating Disorders, The Silent Killer. (2022, Jul 12). Retrieved from

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