Eating Disorders: Lifestyle choice or a psychological condition?

eating disorder anorexia

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

Starved beyond measure: The harrowing story of an anorexic’s death

The inevitable death of Kate Chilver of UK at the ripe age of 31 is what her doctors describe as one of the most scarring cases of anorexia. Anorexia is an eating disorder wherein a person resorts to extreme heights of under-eating.

Kate, who weighed less than 30 kg, succumbed to death while fighting a 16-year long battle with this eating disorder.

Her doctors revealed that her BMI was way below the normal range. Usually, people have a BMI ranging between 20 to 25. Kate’s was at a dangerous 9.

The onset of anorexia in this particular patient happened when she was 12, a common age when people generally develop eating disorders. At 15, she was hospitalized.

While her doctors tried everything to restore normal health in her, all efforts went in vain.

How does anorexia end up taking someone’s life?

For starters, by severely restricting food anorexics limit the amount of energy and nutrients their bodies receive. This triggers a chain of bodily reactions which can have fatal outcomes.

Your brain, the epicenter of all bodily functions suffers a massive blow due to malnutrition. As a result, it starts shrinking, causing physiological and psychological damage.

With no fats in the body, the blood vessels start collapsing. Subsequently, the tissues in the abdominal region begin to die due to poor circulation.

At this critical juncture, the patient could die due to a cardiac arrest or insufficient oxygen.

What are Eating Disorders?

anorexia is fatal

Thanks to the unrealistic body image projections kindled by mainstream media, a whopping 78% of people (mostly women) feel pressured to attain a “flawless” body.

Many of them go on crash diets and resort to extreme mechanisms for losing weight.

But when this skewed sense of body image forces an individual to develop extremely unhealthy eating patterns, it takes the shape of a psychological disorder, commonly termed as an eating disorder.

Additionally, a pattern of excessive eating, which is fuelled by deep psychological issues is also categorized under this group.

Basically, when eating irregularities, be it under-eating or over-eating, begin to interfere with an individual’s well-being, that tendency is an eating disorder.

Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa, and Binge-eating disorder –these are the main kinds of eating disorders plaguing the young generation today.

How bad can an Eating Disorder be?

Eating Disorder statistics

  • 1 out of every 5 women is suffering from an eating disorder or unhealthy eating pattern.
  • Globally, 70 million people remain affected by different types of eating disorders. Yet, only a meager 10% are currently receiving treatment for it.
  • 9 out of 10 patients with eating disorders are teenagers or young adults (12-25 years age).
  • The diet-related industry is a booming enterprise, earning $50 billion dollars per year.
  • 51% of pre-teens girls feel better when they are on a diet.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate when compared to any other mental condition. For women in the age group of 12-24, the mortality rate of anorexia is 12 times more than any other leading cause of death.
  • Men and women adopt unhealthy means to cut down weight which mostly include smoking, skipping food, inherent fasting, taking a large number of laxatives, and vomiting any ingested food.
  • 10%-15% of all eating disorder patients are men. But, due to the social stigma and gender-stereotyping associated with these conditions, a majority of them don’t seek treatment.
  • All eating disorders have one thing in common- unhealthy weight fluctuations. They either tend to gain or lose considerable body weight within a short span of time.
  • Excessive stomach cramps, menstrual irregularities (in females), dizziness, abnormal sleeping patterns – all these go hand-in-hand with eating disorders.

Why are eating disorders classified as mental illness?

anorexia statistics

The main reason why bulimia, anorexia, and binge-eating are dealt mainly from a psychological point of view is that people tend to develop extreme emotions and behavior around food.

These strong emotions, related to body-image or any other psychological need, are nothing but unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Many of these are passed on from parents to their offspring, just many other psychiatric conditions.

Just like these psychiatric conditions, eating disorders can also make people “dependent” or neurally “hardwired” for this particular practice of unhealthy eating.

Moreover, a clear cognitive, emotional, and physical health decline is observed in eating disorders; the kind which is identified in many psychiatric disorders.

Understanding Eating Disorders

Anorexia nervosa

The term Anorexia nervosa comes from ‘an’ – without and ‘orexia”- desire or appetite. Nervosa is the Latin for a psychological need or affliction for a particular behavior or habit.

When put together, it refers to the eating disorder marked by an unhealthy obsession for starving oneself, mostly for attaining unrealistic bodily features.

Anorexia, called as “rich girl’s syndrome”, makes people feel excessively conscious of their diet and image and they resort to extreme measures in restricting what they consume.

They make heavy use of laxatives, diet tablets, diuretics, enemas, and fierce exercising routines.

  • Anorexia is a major psychological condition since people start equating slimness with self-worth.
  • Anorexics tend to develop bluish tinge over their fingers, intolerance to cold and infections, irregular heartbeat, severe dehydration, low blood pressure, and anemia.
  • Anyone with a BMI less than 17.5 is considered to be falling under the unhealthy radar of anorexia. Normal BMI is 20-25.
  • Experts believe that anorexia may have a genetic component. Additionally, people, especially women who have an obsessive predisposition are more likely to turn anorexics.
  • Many cultures, such as the western, hail excessive thinness and beauty and virtue. Such factors may become peer pressure factors and compel young people and wrongly motivate them through unhealthy body images.
  • Anorexia is largely a fatal disease. It directly impacts your cardiovascular health, making you prone to cardiac arrests. Due to calcium deficiency, people face more risk of bone fractures. Infertility, severe gastrointestinal disorders, and renal failures – all of these are a part of anorexia.

Bulimia Nervosa

People who suffer from Bulimia exhibit a peculiar tendency.

They tend to heavily binge on food, and then later expel every bit of food ingested by forcefully vomiting or excessive use of laxatives or diuretics(Bulimia = “Buos” or ox-like + “limous” or hunger).

Bulimics tend to believe that a rapid expulsion of food from the body will prevent them from absorbing fats and sugar present in the food.

Their eating habits lie in extremes – they feel compelled to consume a large number of junk foods and then they forceful expel it out of their bodies in hopes of remaining slim.

  • Just like in case of anorexia, bulimia patients also have the tendency to relate happiness and satisfaction with an acutely thin body.
  • There are two types of bulimic – one who tend to purge out the contents of their stomachs and the other which will resort to extreme fasting and exercise.
  • Bulimia has genetic, environmental, and cultural roots. Additionally, a history of trauma or abuse, development of low-esteem, and negative body image are also responsible.
  • Bulimia causes severe bodily malfunction. It includes heart problems, damaged blood vessels in the eyes, inflammation of GI tract, chronic dehydration, lacerations in the mouth, stomach ulcers, and infertility.
  • Not to mention, bulimia and mood-disorders are very much entwined. More than 50% of bulimics also have anxiety disorders. 10% of all bulimia patients are caught-up in substance abuse.

Binge-Eating Disorder (BED)

While many of us are guilty of making nocturnal visits to the kitchen to quench midnight hunger pangs, people with BED tend to take this behavior a notch higher.

BED patients have round-the-clock, uncontrollable urge to eat large portions of food.

It is the polar opposite of what bulimia and anorexia are. Such individuals tend to grow morbidly obese.

An unhealthy coping mechanism towards dealing with depression and anxiety might be one of the key reasons why people develop this disorder.

Generally, BED patients are in general unhappy with life which pushes them to find solace in food. This makes them dependant on food for every emotional need. So every time one feels emotional, he/she resorts to eating.

This forms a vicious cycle of unfulfilled emotional needs and continuous eating.

Additionally, certain hormonal irregularities, genetic conditions, distorted body-image, and low self-esteem are the main factors at play here.

Sometimes, societal pressure to be thin can cause a person to subconsciously rebel and adhere to BED.

Likewise,emotional eating is commonly observed among people who lack the emotional stamina to deal with mental pain and agony.

This means that history of harassment, abuse, and trauma could also kindle binge-eating.

The major complications caused due to eating disorders are obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, cardiac problems.

Additionally, hypertension, muscular pain, gallbladder issues, and digestive problems are also a part of BED.

All in all, eating disorders are nothing but mental disorders in disguise.

Moreover,almost all of them are triggered by some sort of depression, loneliness, or pent-up anger. People who are continually ridiculed for their looks and/or are involved in professions (ballet dancing or modeling) tend to develop these tendencies more.

Addressing such issues involves pinpointing the real cause of the eating disorder – this is how one can begin the treatment.



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