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Overview Of Eating Disorders
An eating disorder is a pervasive and potentially deadly mental health problem that can take over a person’s life and become dangerous without the proper support and treatment.
Most eating disorders stem from issues related to body image and weight, causing the individual to adapt to dangerous eating behaviors.
Eating disorders affect both men and women. They usually begin in adolescence or young adulthood, and these disorders may get worse over time.
An eating disorder can affect both physical and mental health. With the right treatment, however, many of the consequences of an eating disorder can be reversed or minimized.
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Types Of Eating Disorders
Several different types of eating disorders exist. Here are the most common eating disorders, along with some information about each disorder:
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that develops from an extreme fear of gaining weight and/or a desire to lose weight. An individual who has anorexia nervosa may restrict their intake of food substantially.
This extreme restrictive behavior can lead to malnutrition and other health complications. Even when the individual with anorexia nervosa is severely underweight, they may still believe that more weight loss is necessary.
People with bulimia nervosa engage in a cycle of binging and purging. During binging episodes, the individual will consume a large amount of food in a short-period of time.
Following the binge episode, the individual may attempt to get rid of the extra calories by using unsafe purging methods, such as laxatives, induced vomiting, or extreme exercise.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
Binge eating disorder (BED) is characterized by recurring episodes of binge eating. During these episodes, the individual may feel out of control.
Eating usually occurs quickly during binge episodes and large amounts of food may be consumed. These episodes can occur at least once every week.
Rumination disorder is an eating disorder characterized by the persistent regurgitation of food after eating. This regurgitation is not part of another eating disorder or medical condition. In fact, it may even be unintentional.
The individual may spit regurgitated food out or swallow it again. If food is spit out, complications like malnutrition are more likely.
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
Avoidant/restrictive intake disorder is a disorder where the individual does not take in enough food on a daily basis because of issues not related to weight.
For example, the individual may be afraid of choking, may be uninterested in food, or may dislike many foods. This disorder is more common in childhood.
Symptoms Of Eating Disorders
The symptoms of eating disorders will vary based on the specific type of disorder, but all of these disorders include unusual eating behaviors. For example, people with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa tend to be overly focused on their weight and body shape.
While people with anorexia nervosa severely restrict their intake of food, people with bulimia nervosa engage in a cycle of binge eating and purging. People with binge eating disorder engage in binge episodes, but they do not compensate for the added calorie intake.
Causes And Risk Factors
As with many mental health issues, the exact cause of eating disorders is not known. However, experts believe that people who have eating disorders are trying to deal with painful emotions by taking control of food. Some of the risk factors for eating disorders include:
- Genetics — People who have relatives with eating disorders may be at higher risk of developing a disorder themselves.
- Emotional health — Certain emotional factors, such as a tendency to be a perfectionist, may raise the risk of developing an eating disorder.
- Peer pressure — Bullying or ridicule related to shape or body weight can increase the risk of developing an eating disorder.
- Environmental factors — Popular culture places value on thinness, which can lead people to engage in unhealthy behaviors in hopes of becoming more appealing or successful.
How Are Eating Disorders Diagnosed?
Eating disorders are diagnosed based on a physical exam and a psychological evaluation. The doctor will likely look for symptoms of an eating disorder, and will then try to identify the mental and physical complications of the disorder.
It’s important to note that early diagnosis of eating disorders can improve treatment outcomes, so anyone experiencing symptoms should seek treatment as soon as possible.
Eating disorders often co-occur with other mental health conditions. Some of the conditions that are likely to accompany an eating disorder include:
- Substance use disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Anxiety disorders
Treating Eating Disorders
A variety of treatment options are available for people who suffer from an eating disorder. In many cases, treatment will involve a combination of evidence-based options. Some of the treatments that may be recommended for eating disorders include:
- Medication — For people with a co-occurring mental health condition, medications are often recommended.
- Psychotherapy — Psychotherapy may involve a variety of therapeutic methods, including behavioral therapy and talk therapy.
- Nutritional counseling — Nutritional counseling helps patients to learn healthy habits and improve nutritional status.
- Medical monitoring — Many people who have eating disorders will come into treatment with physical complications. The purpose of medical monitoring is to address these complications and improve physical health overall.