What image comes to mind when you hear the word thanksgiving?  Do you think of a turkey dinner with all the trimmings?  In most cultures, people celebrate holidays and other important occasions by preparing traditional foods.  But for some people food can be a source of anxiety.

An eating disorder is a mental disorder that reveals itself through abnormal behaviors that reveals itself through abnormal behaviors related to food.  Eating diorders are about more than just food.  They are about emotions, thoughts, and attitudes.  A person with anorexia nervosa doesn't eat enough food to maintain a healthy body weight.  The main symptom is extreme weight loss.  Other symptoms include slowed heart and breathing rates, dry sin, lowered body temperature, and growth of fine body hair.  In females, another symptom is loss of menstrual periods.

Even when they are extremely thin, people with anorexia see themselves as fat and work hard to lose more weight.  A person with anorexia can starve to death.  In some cases, a lack of essential minerals causes the heart to stop suddenly, leading to death.

The lack of a chemical that regulates mood is one possible cause of anorexia.  Other possible causes are low self-esteem and a strong desire to please others.  A person with anorexia may have a history of troubled relationships.  By controlling what they eat, or more accurately, what they don't eat, people with anorexia may be attempting to take control of their lives.  Instead, the disorder begins to control them.

People with anorexia usually deny that there is a problem.  They need to be encouraged to get help.  Becasue of their extreme weight loss, they are often first treated in a hospital.  Doctors, nurses, and dietitians work together to stop the weight loss and change a person's eating habits.  At the same time, mental health experts work with the patient and family members to address the underlying emotional problems.

Another eating disorder that is seen mainly in young women is bulimia.  People who have bulimia go on uncontrolled eating binges followed by purging or removing the food from their bodies.  They purge the food by making themselves vomit or by using laxatives.

Most people with bulimia maintain a weight in their normal range.  However, the cycle of bingeing and purging has a negative effect on their health.  They may suffer from dehydration, kidney damage, and a lack of necessary vitamins and minerals.  The stomach acid in vomit irritates the throat and erodes the enamel from the teeth.  People with bulimia often become depressed and may even think about suicide.

Many of the causes listed for anorexia also apply to bulimia.  In addition, people who binge may use food as a way to feel better emotionally.  Then they purge because they are concerned about gaining weight.  Bulimia may begin in connection with a diet, but the person soon becomes unable to stop the cycle of bingeing and purging.

People who have bulimia are aware of what they are doing, but they are unable to control their behavior.  They are often too ashamed of their behavior to seek help.  If you now someone with bulimia, offer your support in private.  Then gently encourage the person to seek the help of a mental-health professional.  There are many effective treatments for bulimia.

Everyone overeats once in a while.  But some people cannot control their compulsion to overeat.  People with binge-eating disorder regularly hae an uncontrollable urge to eat large amounts of food.  They usually do not purge after a binge.  People with binge eating disorder cannot stop eating even when they are full.  They may intend to eat two slices of bread and end up eating the entire loaf.

Someone with binge eating disorder isn't going to starve to death or suffer the consequences of repeated purging.  But there are health risks with binge eating.  The main physical risks of binge eating disorder are excess weight gain and unhealthy dieting.  When people gain an unhealthy amount of weight, they are at greater risk for illnesses such as the weight gain from binges, some people try extreme diets that promise rapid weight loss.  The hunger caused by such diets can trigger more binges, which can trigger more dieting.

Some people use binge eating to avoid dealing with difficult emotions, such as anger, or with stressful situations.  The food may provide some temporary relief, but it can lead to other difficult emotions, such as guilt or depression.

People with binge eating disorder need help in learning how to control their eating.  They may need to eat more slowly but deliberately.  They often need to address underlying emotional problems.