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Do You or Your Friend Have an Eating Disorder?

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by Dr. Tali Shenfield, Child Psychologist

Eating disorders are far more common than you may think. This disorder is the most common psychological problem treated by mental health practitioners. Eating disorders primarily affect women. Around ninety percent of people with eating disorders are teenage or young adult women. There are a number of theories as to why young women would be the most susceptible to eating disorders. But, the cause in probably a cultural one. For example, in Renaissance Europe, wealthy young women would over eat because fat was considered beautiful. Just look at the paintings depicting the female form at the time. That was the ideal. However, there is also a psychological component as well. Bingeing and purging, a type of eating disorder, was practically a sport at certain times in Ancient Rome and was practiced by both men and women. At those days, nobody would classify it as a mental health disease.

Eating Disorder Anorexia

These days, a slim figure is the female ideal. And this actually isn’t as bad as it was. The most famous model of the Twentieth Century was a woman named Twiggy. And she wasn’t named that for nothing.

Psychologists deal with three types of eating disorders. The first is Anorexia, which is simply starving yourself. It’s more technical name is anorexia nervosa. It’s pretty easy to tell if you have this disorder. If you are not eating in order to loose weight when you are already at least fifteen percent under normal body weight for a person of your build and height, then you may have this disorder.

The next is binge eating, where a person starves herself for a period of time, then over eats and then goes back to starving herself. The starvation may cause the overeating, but if this behavior is repetitive, then it’s very likely that an eating disorder is present.

The last is bulimia or bulimia nervosa. This is a cycle of bingeing and purging, where a person eats excessively and then gets rid of the food by vomiting. There are other types of bulimia including the use of enemas, diuretics or laxatives or obsessive exercise to purge the calories. Bulimia can often go undetected as body weight will tend to remain normal and the bingeing and purging usually takes place in secret because the person suffering from the disorder considers her behavior to be shameful.

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Dr. Tali Shenfield is a Clinical Psychologist and Director of Richmond Hill Psychology Center. She holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Toronto and is a member of the College of Psychologists of Ontario, Canadian Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology, and Canadian Psychological Association. When she has free time from psychological assessments and psychotherapy, Dr. Shenfield enjoys writing articles for her psychology and parenting blog at psy-ed.com. You are welcome to visit her blog and follow Dr. Tali Shenfield on Twitter at @DrShenfield.

2 Comments

  1. Melanie Lutz

    March 8, 2013 at 8:33 am

    As a SMARTLlipo, weight loss specialist, I am constantly surprised by the amount of people who know talk about how TV and their role models has transfixed their eating habits. I honestly believe media has a lot to blame for all of this.

    • Dr. Tali Shenfield

      March 11, 2013 at 8:01 am

      Melanie,
      I certainly agree with you re role of the media and peer pressure. However, as a child psychologist, I often trace eating disorders to hidden anxiety, anger, depression, and even separation anxiety. When these issues are taken care of, the eating disorders go away.

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