Living free from eating disorders
Tens of millions of Americans currently struggle with eating disorders, and the problem appears to be growing. Teenage girls and young women are the most commonly affected, but eating disorders occur in both genders, all ages and all ethnic backgrounds worldwide. Many people go undiagnosed because they conceal their illness.
Eating disorders are life-threatening. Untreated, eating disorders can lead to malnutrition, organ damage and death. The psychiatric effects and impact on relationships are also severe, causing some people with eating disorders to turn to drugs or alcohol to numb their feelings of shame, depression, anxiety and fear.
Major symptoms of eating disorders include undereating, overeating, binging, and/or purging. Sometimes people with eating disorders overexercise, take laxatives or use drugs to suppress their appetites. Though the causes and symptoms differ, most people with an eating disorder share one common problem: a negative body image.
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Body image distortions are part of the diagnostic criteria for eating disorders. The American Psychiatric Association’s 2012 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), defines body image distortions as a “disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or persistent lack of recognition of the seriousness of the current low body weight.”
Body image distortion is a dislike of one’s own physical characteristics. A negative body image leads to low self-esteem and poor mental and physical health. No one likes everything about his or her body, but when thoughts become obsessive and the resulting behaviors interfere with daily activities, body image distortion becomes a problem.
According to the DSM-5, there are different ways eating disorders can manifest. The following are the most common. Descriptions are quoted from the DSM-5.