Two of the most common eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia. These potentially life-threatening disorders often originate in the teenage or young adult years. They are much more likely to develop in females. The precise cause of eating disorders is unknown, but they have often been connected to issues of low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse. Many mental health professionals attribute eating disorders as a way to gain control over one’s life. An anorexic or bulimic person may think that they can control at least this one food-related aspect of their life; as an anorexic you control what you eat and as a bulimic you purge after eating. Anorexia or bulimia can start with one or two isolated incidents which then begin to evolve and take over the patient’s life.
Patients who have anorexia have an extreme fear of, and preoccupation with gaining weight. Anorexics will diet and exercise excessively. At times anorexics will barely eat for fear of gaining weight. People who suffer from anorexia have a distorted body image and will see themselves as overweight in the mirror when they may in fact be grossly underweight. People with anorexia will end up eating tiny amounts of food, to the point that they are barely eating at all. Yet, they will most often deny any eating problem exists when confronted with the problem. On the other hand, patients with bulimia are often within normal weight ranges. Yet they too have a fear of gaining weight and are driven by a distorted body image of being fat or overweight. Bulimic patients will binge, eat large amounts of food, and then purge by vomiting or abuse laxatives. People with bulimia feel great guilty and shame over their behavior and learn to become very secretive with their actions.
It is often very difficult to treat a patient with an eating disorder, with anorexic patients being particularly difficult to treat. When a patient has suffered from anorexia for a while, the body is often experiencing many difficult health issues. Also, the patient’s negative self-image is also most likely at an all-time high. At the onset of therapy a psychiatrist will recommend a complete medical examination for the patient to make sure there are not serious health complications that require attention. Patients with eating disorders will benefit from psychiatric treatment; the psychiatrist will build a trusting and supportive patient/psychiatrist relationship, which is essential. The psychiatrist will work to eliminate the patient’s obsession with body-image. A psychiatrist needs to be very patient and put personal frustration aside, as the patient may be very slow in giving up their body-image preoccupation. Cognitive-oriented therapies for self-image and realistic self-assessment help her patients overcome these disorders.