Eating disorders: Eat to live, not live to eat
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Eating disorders: Eat to live, not live to eat


Many medical experts have categorised eating disorders as a range of psychological conditions that cause unhealthy eating habits. Some might start with an obsession with body weight, body shape and food intake. For some, eating disorders can cause serious health consequences and may even result in death if proper steps are not taken.

People with eating disorders may experience a variety of symptoms. Research studies have shown that most of these symptoms include severe restriction of food intake, excessive consumption, purging or vomiting reaction and at times over-exercising.

Eating disorder statistics worldwide

According to, some leading indicators include the following:

  • Global eating disorder prevalence increased from 3.4% to 7.8% between 2000 and 2018.
  • 70 million people internationally live with eating disorders.
  • Japan has the highest prevalence of eating disorders in Asia, followed by Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea.
  • Austria had the highest rate of prevalence in Europe at 1.55% as of 2012.
  • Almost half of all Americans know someone with an eating disorder.

Eating disorder statistics by gender

  • Eating disorders were more prevalent among young women than men according to U.S research studies. Notably:
  • A quarter of those with anorexia are male. Men have an increased risk of dying because they are diagnosed much later than women. This could be in part due to the misconception that men do not experience eating disorders.

Common types of eating disorders

Eating disorders are illnesses that affect a person's relationship with food and body image. Common types of eating disorders include the following:

  • Bulimia nervosa: Symptoms include purging, taking laxatives, exercising, or fasting to avoid weight gain after excessive eating.
  • Anorexia nervosa: This characterised by weight loss or maintenance by extreme dieting, starvation, or too much exercise.
  • Binge eating: This condition means frequent consumption of unusually large amounts of food on a single occasion.

These disorders require clearer and in-depth understanding.

Symptoms of eating disorders

Some of the common symptoms as presented by the Mayo Clinic vary depending on the type of eating disorder identified.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterised by an abnormally low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted perception of weight or shape. People with anorexia use extreme efforts to control their weight and shape, which often significantly and adversely affects their health and life activities.

A person suffering from anorexia excessively limits calorie intake uses other methods to lose weight, such as excessive exercise, using laxatives or diet aids plus vomiting after meals. Efforts to reduce weight, although being underweight, can have a severe impact on health, to the point of self-starvation.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder. With bulimia, one has episodes of bingeing and purging that involve feeling a lack of control over your eating. Many people with bulimia also restrict their eating during the day, which often leads to more excessive eating and purging. This is due to the obsession with their own weight and body shape.

During these episodes, sufferers typically eat a large amount of food in a short time and then try to rid themselves of the extra calories in an unhealthy way (forced vomiting, laxatives or over-exercise). This is due to a sense of guilt, shame and an intense fear of weight gain from overeating.

Binge-eating disorder

Sufferers of binge-eating disorder, regularly eat too much food and feel a lack of control of their overeating. One may eat quickly or eat more food than intended, even when not hungry or already uncomfortably full.

A person may feel guilty, disgusted or ashamed by such behaviour and the amount of food eaten. But such a person does not try to compensate for this behaviour with excessive exercise or purging, as someone with bulimia or anorexia might do. Embarrassment can lead to eating alone to conceal the habit from others.

A new round of excessive consumption usually occurs at least once a week. A sufferer may be of normal weight, overweight or obese.

Getting the right treatment

The key to getting the right treatment is actually recognising the problem and getting diagnosed. The curative pathway of an eating disorder generally involves a combination of the following solutions:

  • Psychological counselling
  • Nutritional counselling
  • Medical monitoring
  • Psychiatric monitoring
  • Treatments must address the following disorders:
  • Eating disorder symptoms
  • Medical consequences
  • Psychological, biological, interpersonal and cultural forces that contribute to eating disorders.

Education about nutritional needs should be a key component in the Nutritional counselling process. Planning and monitoring rational treatment choices for an individual patient is another important aspect of the treatment pathway and needs to be systematically crafted.

There are many treatment methods that have been identified and proven to be effective in treating eating disorders. In general, the treatment is definitely more effective before the disorder becomes chronic. However, even people with long term eating disorders can and do recover. Therefore, sufferers should not wait to seek the right guidance.

Author: Ezree Ebrahim, Head Business Development (Healthcare), Absolute Health Group. For Further information, please contact:

Series Editor: Christopher F. Bruton, Executive Director, Dataconsult Ltd, Dataconsult's Thailand Regional Forum provides seminars and extensive documentation to update business on future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.

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