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Eating disorders are characterized by a serious disturbance in eating behaviour (eating either too much or too little). An eating disorder is a problematic coping strategy. Treatment involves initially stabilizing the person’s diet to meet nutritional needs, followed by a variety of psychotherapies.
Eating disorders are disturbingly common among young women (15–25), up to 2 per cent of whom have anorexia and up to 5 per cent bulimia. This is a growing and serious problem because eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses—10 to 20 per cent of those afflicted eventually die from complications.
Anorexia nervosa, one of the most common eating disorders, is a serious illness that involves drastic weight loss due to fasting; sometimes it is accompanied by excessive exercise.
People with an eating disorder often have an intense fear of gaining weight, so they establish unusual eating habits, such as weighing and portioning food. People with anorexia are often in denial of the seriousness of their loss of weight, and persist in seeing themselves as too heavy, no matter how thin they become.
Bulimia is binge eating followed by recurrent inappropriate behaviour designed to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting; the use of laxatives, diuretics or enemas; and fasting or excessive exercise.
Binge eating disorder is overeating, often in secret, as a means of deriving comfort.
Binge-eating episodes are associated with at least three of the following symptoms: eating much more rapidly than normal; eating until feeling uncomfortably full; eating large amounts of food even when not hungry; eating alone due to embarrassment about how much one is eating; and feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty after overeating.