Eating disorders have become quite a well known problem, with millions of people affected. Eating disorders are a disease that is progressive and incurable and the same type of disease as any other addiction. The sufferer is trapped in a helpless cycle of obsessive and compulsive behavior and unable to break free of the need to escape feelings and control.

Eating disorders are more common than most people think - not everyone with an eating disorder appears to be skeletal, although this does happen in severe cases. Many people with eating disorders are not at death’s door and their lives are still relatively manageable, but because eating disorders are a disease that is progressive, the condition will worsen over time to a point where they will need help and their lives begin to fall apart.

Many sufferers are able to hide their problem and appear fine to their friends, family and associates. Yet on the inside they are trapped. Eating disorders are also a common problem for people with other addictive habits. Many people seeking treatment for drug addiction, alcoholism or any other addictive behaviors come to realize that they have an eating disorder accompanying their drug problem.

There are three main types of eating disorders that are well known and experienced. Aside from these three, many other types of disordered eating are documented including selective eating and body dysmorphic disorder.

The three most common types are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and compulsive over-eating. However, most eating disorder patients display traits of all three types as the root problem and this is generally the same in all sufferers, yet the action of dealing with these compulsions may be different.

Anorexia Nervosa
When an eating disorder manifests as Anorexia nervosa, the sufferer will starve themselves until death. Anorexics have an incredibly low self esteem and generally suffer from massive self hatred.

They have a need for control and dominate this need by restricting their food intake to virtually nothing, which is of course an irony as an anorexia nervosa sufferer is incredibly out of control in terms of being able to stop. A person can be diagnosed as an anorexic when they have reached a body weight of less than 85% of what their minimum weight should be according to their height and bone structure.

Anorexics have many tricks and cunning methods of losing weight and avoidance of eating food. Despite the anorexic being obsessed with food (generally an anorexic will think about food 100% of the time because this is a natural reaction of the body being exposed to starvation), their problem is not with food. Food is the medium through which they are able to fulfil their needs, yet the problem rests within the anorexic themselves in their behaviour.

Anorexics have an intense fear of gaining weight and/or getting fat and will do anything in their power to prevent it. Pretending to eat and hiding food, excessive exercising in secret, lying about weight loss and eating habits, wearing baggy clothing to disguise a thin body, distorted body image and excessive obsession with food and calories are all habitual tendencies of an anorexic.

Because the disease is so all consuming combined with the immense strain and damage to the body, an anorexic will become extremely depressed and aggressive. Visible symptoms of the disorder are obviously an immense weight loss, stopping of the menstrual cycle (in women), excessive exercising and a fear of food, a fine growth of hair on the body due to the body being incapable of generating its own heat due to lack of fuel and secretive and controlling behaviour around food. Death is the prognosis if the disorder is left untreated.

Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia Nervosa is a disorder in which the sufferer will binge on food; sometimes enough for a small group of people, and follow this binge with some kind of compensatory behaviour to avoid weight gain. Compensatory behaviour is usually purging (self-induced vomiting), use of laxatives, excessive exercise and fasting. A bulimic will also have secret eating habits and an enormous fear of food and calories yet their body weight will usually remain normal or even slightly overweight due to some calories being absorbed by their bodies before they manage to purge.

Bulimia Nervosa is an escape from unbearable feelings. Also based on control, the bulimic is trapped in an unbreakable cycle of needing to binge and purge. Bulimics plan binges and purges and once they have binged, they go to immense lengths to be able to act out on their compensatory behaviour. Behavioural symptoms of bulimia are a person eating enormous amounts of food without gaining weight, secretive behaviour around food including stealing, disappearing to the toilet after eating, exercising heavily after eating and starving for a few days after eating.

Bulimia is incredibly stressful on the body. Sufferers may have bloated faces and glands, scars on their hands from rubbing their knuckles raw with inducing vomiting, cracked lips, rotten teeth and bad breath as well as bad skin condition. Because of the stresses placed on the body by consuming laxatives, vomiting and over exercising, the electrolyte balance in the blood of a bulimic will be imbalanced. The body also has to cope with the stretching of the stomach from bingeing. All these stresses put a bulimic is at risk of a heart attack, split larynx, burst stomach and intestine and organ failure.

Compulsive Overeating
A compulsive overeater is a person who is addicted to eating. They have no control over their bingeing but do not follow this with compensatory behaviour. The act of eating is intoxicating to them, just like a drug.

Compulsive overeaters are generally morbidly obese and have major health problems due to the excess weight.

As with anorexics and bulimics, a compulsive overeater has very low self worth and self hatred. This is the cause of a nasty cycle of self abuse - sufferers will over eat and then feel bad about themselves and then eat to avoid the feelings, after which they feel worse and on the cycle continues.

The symptoms of compulsive overeating are an inability to control consumption of food despite the consequences and the wish to be smaller and be able to control their eating. Secretive behaviour around food and eating such as stealing food, lying about eating habits and severe weight gain are also key symptoms.

The treatment of an eating disorder in its most severe form will usually require inpatient treatment at a treatment centre. An eating disorder is a problem which has been ingrained and compulsively acted out on for years. These behaviours take time to break and mend and intense therapy will be required. The use of a Twelve Step Programme and a daily programme of recovery is necessary to make sure that the sufferer will not slip back into the old behaviours again once they have left treatment.

In therapy the behaviours will be addressed as well as patients eating a healthy diet and exercising, depending on their health.

With proper care and treatment in a nurturing environment, an eating disordered patient will be able to regain control over their life and learn to love themselves. Treatment will be a difficult time, but if the sufferer really desires help to arrest their condition, then they will be able to lead a normal life with a daily programme of recovery.

Author's Bio: 

Oasis Counselling Centre is an addiction treatment centre which offers treatment for patients with eating disorders through individual and group therapy, a carefully monitored food plan and a programme for recovery to help the client to stay abstinent from their destructive behaviours once they have left treatment.