Author: Sylvia Marinova, PhD student in the Genomic Stability Laboratory at BAS

Eating disorders are a psychological disease

It is generally accepted that eating disorders are a voluntary choice for our lifestyle. This is a profound misstatement, and as a result, these conditions are overlooked, when they are in fact serious psychiatric illnesses.

The severe changes that accompany them go far beyond eating habits and are also related to the psyche and emotions, and often to the danger to the lives of those affected.

There are three main types of eating disorders according to the American Psychiatric Association [ref.1] - anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and systemic overeating. At the core of all of them are rooted negative thoughts regarding diet, body shape and weight, which lead to behavioral changes that pose a danger to physical health.

Eating disorders in some cases occur along with other mental illnesses or conditions such as anxiety, panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder and drug or alcohol abuse. In most cases it is necessary to seek medical intervention.

Anorexia, bulimia, overeating

People suffering from anorexiaand bulimiaoften have low self-esteem and are highly critical of themselves and the way they look. They create mental attitudes and see themselves as "fat", even though they sometimes suffer from malnutrition.

 

Who is at risk of anorexia, bulimia or overeating

In practice, anyone can develop such a condition, regardless of age, ethnic origin, gender or kilograms. Statistics show that women are more vulnerable and that adolescents [ref.2]are mostaffected, with the peak of occurrence in women being between 16 and 20 years of age [ref.3].However, these diseases can occur as early as early childhood or in adulthood in both women and men.

The causes of the appearance of eating disorders are intertwined, and a 2015 article shows that an amalgam of several factors [ref.4] is important:

  • Sociocultural factors - they are related to the influence of contemporary notions imposed by society and the media, on how we should look and what is aesthetically acceptable.

Anorexia and bulimia are social problems

  • Psychological factors - this is about how each individual perceives and reacts to different situations and how they control theiremotions.

  • Genetic factors - studies with identical twins show that there is a family burden in these diseases. However, the exact genes that contribute to the increased risk of developing eating disorders have not yet been clarified.

  • Environmental factors - for example, some experiences can influence the unlocking of eating disorders. In other words , genetic predisposition increases the risk, but the relationship with influences from our environment is also present.

In conclusion, in terms of risk factors, we can say that they are a complex of biopsychological effects that are interlinked.

 

What are the main eating disorders

Eating disorders, bulimia, anorexia, overeating

  • Anorexia nervosa - in short, is simply called anorexia. It is characterized by low body weight, which is at least 15% less than the normal healthy weight for the age and height of a person. The condition is potentially life-threatening and the most distinctive characteristics are very limited caloric intake, a strong fear of gaining weight and a distorted idea of one'sown body and denial of low body weight. People with anorexia reach such a low weight because they do not eat enough, exercise excessively, and sometimes themselves induce vomiting of the accepted food or abuse laxatives to lose weight.

  • Bulimia neurosis - simply called bulimia. The weight of people with bulimia can be slightly below the norm, in the norm, littleor far above it. They have episodes of uncontrollable eating, taking huge amounts of food rich in carbohydrates and fats. Usually this becomes hidden from other people and is followed by forced vomiting or use of laxatives. The consequences are related to gastrointestinal problems,kidney problems, wear of tooth enamel, chronic inflammation of the throat,etc. the last two effects are due to the influence of highly acidic gastric juices passing through the esophagus and oral cavitywhen vomiting.

  • Systemic overeating (hyperphagia) - in this disease, frequent episodes of overeating arealso present, but with the difference that patients do not try to throw away food forcibly. This leads to obesity, development of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, highblood pressure and others . frequent episodes of uncontylable food intake even without starvationtesting, rapid ingestion of food, a sense of shame in front of others.

All eating disorders are dangerous to health, and some of them can also reach a fatal end, whether due to complications or suicide. Therefore, if we have any doubt that we or someone close to them may suffer from such adisease, it is extremely important to seek timelyhelp.

 

Read more: Are eating disorders anorexia, bulimia and overeating treatable?

 

References:

  1. What Are Eating Disorders?, American Psychiatric Association

  2. The development of bulimic symptoms from adolescence to young adulthood in females and males: a population-based longitudinal cohort study, The International journal of eating disorders, 2012
  3. Prevalence, incidence, impairment, and course of the proposed DSM-5 eating disorder diagnoses in an 8-year prospective community study of young women, Journal of abnormal psychology, 2013
  4. Research Review: What we have learned about the causes of eating disorders - a synthesis of sociocultural, psychological, and biological research, Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines, 2015

 

The author:

👩 🔬 Sylvia Marinova has a BSc in Molecular biology (Sofia University, Bulgaria), and a MSc in structural biology (Grenoble, France). She is currently a doctoral student at the Laboratory of Genomic Stability at IMB, BAS. Her research interests are in the field of DNA repair, microscopy and biophysics. She loves photography, painting and sports.