Women's Health Matters

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Eating disorders

Eating disorders are not about appearance, looking thin or seeking attention. An eating disorder is a serious mental health problem that is usually related to emotional difficulties and low self-esteem. Eating disorders often develop as a way to cope with difficult and painful feelings.

The focus on weight, calories and exercise allows the individual to distance herself from whatever is at the heart of her difficulties. Anger, fear, grief, sadness, pain and other intense feelings can be very scary. An eating disorder is akin to an emotional anesthesia. Through disregard for physical sensations and a focus on self-deprivation and restriction, a woman with anorexia will eventually become so weak she won’t feel much of anything at all. Her body might then release endorphins (natural chemicals released during times of stress or trauma) that leave her feeling dazed and euphoric. This euphoria can be very reinforcing.A woman with bulimia may attempt to get rid of painful feelings through purging. After purging, she may feel “cleansed” and also be on a natural high from the chemicals released.

These anesthetizing illnesses are severely damaging physically and psychologically. In addition, eating disorders can significantly impact one’s relationships and cognitive abilities. Eating disorders are life-threatening and often those suffering from them need professional help to recover.

References

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital