Women between the ages of 16 and 24 are most likely to develop one or more eating disorders in their lifetime. What are these eating disorders and how can they be treated?

What are the common types?

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a common eating disorder found mostly among young men and women. The condition consists of frequent binge eating followed by guilt and behaviours to compensate for the binge eating. These behaviours include “purging” (causing yourself to vomit), overusing laxatives and/or diuretics (pills that make you urinate frequently) as well as over-exercising. Some people who suffer from bulimia can exercise between two to three times daily to make up for eating too much. This eating disorder isn’t easily tracked by looking at someone’s weight since sufferers can be underweight, normal or even obese.

Anorexia nervosa

People who suffer from this eating disorder are typically underweight and consider themselves “fat”. This unrealistic, negative perception of their weight causes them to take drastic measures to restrict their food intake; sometimes not eating any solid food for days on end. Because people with this disorder refuse to eat enough and may often develop unhealthy habits like taking laxatives frequently and obsessive exercising, they can suffer from a lot of health complications like hair loss, brittle nails, anaemia and low blood pressure.

Binge eating disorder

People with this disorder experience episodes where they feel like they need to eat a large amount of food in a very short space of time. They often feel like they can’t control themselves and may eat multiple meals at once, even if they don’t feel hungry. For these people, eating is a compulsion and a way of dealing with stress and emotions. However, the binge eating episodes will end with them feeling guilty, worthless and depressed. Binge eating disorder can lead to numerous health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

What are the causes?

Eating disorders can be a bit difficult to narrow down to one cause, but people who suffer from them usually have a low self-esteem, negative views about themselves that affect their relationship with food and the world around them, as well as other psychological and environmental issues.

Can they be treated?

Because the causes of eating disorders are so complex, treating the eating habits without looking at the underlying emotional problems isn’t a good idea. So, people who suffer from eating disorders will often need the help of a psychologist as well as a nutritionist to assist with their physical and emotional health.

How can you tell if a friend has an eating disorder?

These are just a few symptoms to look out for if you think someone you know might have an eating disorder:

An obsession with weight and weighing themselves Being ashamed to eat in public Being anxious and uneasy around meal times Taking laxatives frequently Making themselves vomit after eating Exercising for long periods or more than once a day Lying about eating patterns and eating secretly

The best way to approach your friend about an eating disorder is to speak to them privately, letting them know that you’re concerned and referring them to places where they can get help. They can can contact SADAG’s helpline on 011 234 4837, or speak to a parent or school counsellor. You can also speak to us about help options and support groups near you.

Help and support are available for people with eating disorders, so spread the word and educate yourself and others around you about them and you could be helping someone who’s been suffering in silence.

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