Eating Disorders

Zeenat Farooq

A balanced, healthy meal forms the basis of human health and avoiding unhealthy, high calorie food is a part of the learned behaviour. But laying unnecessary stress on “what you eat” can mingle with your “brain circuits” that co-ordinate signals governing appetite and food intake cycle. This can also become the root cause for a number of “eating disorders”.

Binge eating Disorder (BED) is a psychological condition characterised by ‘obsessive compulsive eating’. A person with the disorder tends to eat a lot of food, especially sugar rich food, without actually being hungry. Such a person eats to the point till eating becomes difficult and uncomfortable. A person with binge eating can consume up to 10,000 calories in one go against a normal intake of around 3-400 calories. Although overeating on festive occasions, parties or at times of stress is a normal phenomenon but repeated over-eating on which the patient has no control and which tends to repeat itself in spite of apparent unwillingness of the patient can sign binge eating.

University of Colorado estimates around 3.5% women and 2.5 % men in America have BED. ().  In this part of the world, health care management is still lacking far behind. Therefore, psychological disorders, especially eating disorders are not even considered a problem and hence are not recognised and addressed, either by the patient or by the healthcare professionals. Binge eating primarily leads to obesity which is the mother of all metabolic disorders like diabetes, cardiac problems, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), metabolic syndrome, infertility issues in women. It can also lead to other eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

Anorexia is a disorder of being threatened by perception of weight gain and hence compulsive dieting upto the point of starvation. It can cause hypothermia, tachycardia, hypokalemia, ketosis, excessive iron deficiency anemia, chronic dehydration, chronic gastric reflux, peptic ulcers, loss of fertility, and cessation of menstrual periods in women.

Bulimia is a disorder characterised by consumption of a large amount of food followed by compulsive purging to avoid weight gain (Gerald Russell, 1979). Methods adopted for purging include vomiting, excessive use of laxatives, diuretics or weight loss pills or even excessive exercise. These are severe, life threatening disorders if left unattended and untreated. Genetic, environmental, psychological, social or cultural factors can all contribute to the condition.

Brain Circuit Alterations

One of the prominent features which follow these conditions is feeling of guilt and shame due to which a person avoids eating, especially sweet foods for the fear of gaining weight. Intensive research suggests humans have an inherent liking for sweet foods. When a person is hungry and some sweet food is presented to him, the brain circuits work in a respective manner and signals are relayed from the hypothalamus gland region which are transmitted to other regions and a proper brain circuit forms which ensures proper nerve transmission for hunger eating-cycle.

This, however, is altered when a person views eating, especially sweet food as a bad activty. The brain signal in such people transmits in the opposite direction i.e., away from hypothalamus. As a consequence, such brain circuits are formed which prevent people from eating, even upon feeling hungry. Scientists at the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders, Boston School of Medicine have done this study on rodent models. The group is working on conducting similar studies on human adults to be followed by studies in human children so as to understand when and where exactly does the change sets in human life.

Who is most likely affected? eople in the age group of 40-50 years, individuals having psychological disturbances like stress, anxiety and depression, professionals in sports, modelling, acting where maintaining a healthy figure is mandatory, and people who are already over-weight and therefore face diminished social acceptance are the most likely targets. Such people tend to binge eat in a symbolic manner to over-rule what others think of them and people who face sleep deprivation also crave carbohydrate rich food in the mornings and are, over time, more likely to develop binge eating.

What can be done? In order to avoid eating disorders, it is important to involve oneself in proper eating habits right from childhood. A huge part can be played by the society and media to avoid obsessing people with “size zero” as the most desirable thing on earth.


Options vary with the cause underlying the eating disorder. People with sleep deprivation should try to get proper sleep, sedatives might also help.

Overweight people should follow a healthy meal plan in combination with regular exercise to control the condition. Additionally, any healthy activity to control cravings like reading, writing or painting should also help.

Keeping a record of the dietary habits might help to find clues about the food which is likely to trigger the condition because such eating disorders are triggered by different stimuli in different people.

Follow a healthy diet plan, reduce intake of sugars like sucrose and fructose. Rather increase intake of complex carbohydrates and fibres in the diet.

Overcome the obsession about “size zero” and stay healthy.

(Author is a research fellow at Department of Biotechnology, University of Kashmir)

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