Eating Disorders


     Eating Disorders describe illnesses that are characterized by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight or shape. Although the term eating is in the name, eating disorders are about more than food. Eating disorders are problems with the way people eat. They can harm a person’s health, emotions and relationships. Eating disturbances may include inadequate or excessive food intake which can ultimately damage an individual’s well-being. They’re complex mental health conditions that often require the intervention of medical and psychological experts to alter their course.

     Eating disorders are a range of psychological conditions that cause unhealthy eating habits to develop. They might start with an obsession with food, body weight or body shape. Eating disorders are a serious medical problem that can have long-term health consequences if left untreated. Disordered eating issues can develop during any stage in life but typically appear during the teen years or young adulthood.

Types of Eating Disorders and their Symptoms

The most common forms of eating disorders include

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Binge Eating Disorder
  • PICA

1. Anorexia Nervosa

     The male or female suffering from anorexia nervosa will typically have an obsessive fear of gaining weight, refusal to maintain a healthy body weight and an unrealistic perception of body image. They tend to constantly monitor their weight, avoid eating certain types of foods, and severely restrict their calories. If you are at least 15 percent under your normal body weight and you are losing weight through not eating, you may be suffering from this disorder. People with anorexia are very strict about what and how much they will eat. They may think about food or calories almost all the time.

     Many women with anorexia develop amenorrhea or the absence of her menstrual period.  Anorexia can have damaging health effects such as brain damage, multi-organ failure, bone loss, heart difficulties and infertility. Anorexia is officially categorized into two subtypes  the restricting type and the binge eating and purging type.

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

  • Being considerably underweight compared with people of similar age and height.
  • The individual suffering from this disorder believes that their body weight, shape and size is directly related to how good they feel about themselves.
  • Very restricted eating patterns.
  • The individual usually experiences an intense and overwhelming fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.
  • an intense fear of gaining weight or persistent behaviors to avoid gaining weight, despite being underweight.
  • Persons with this disorder often deny the seriousness of their condition and cannot objectively evaluate their own weight.
  • A relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat very little on purpose. This leads to a very low body weight.
  • a distorted body image, including denial of being seriously underweight.
  • Have a distorted body image. They see themselves as fat even when they are very thin.
  • A heavy influence of body weight or perceived body shape on self-esteem.
  • Have an intense fear of weight gain. They fear looking fat.

People with anorexia are very strict about what and how much they will eat. They may think about food or calories almost all the time.

2. Bulimia Nervosas

     This eating disorder is characterized by repeated binge eating followed by behaviors that compensate for the overeating, such as forced vomiting, excessive exercise, or extreme use of laxatives or diuretics. People with binge eating disorder (BED) often keep eating long after they are full, eat when they’re not hungry, eat very rapidly and feel disgusted, embarrassed or self-loathing by their eating behavior.

     Many individuals with the disorder remain at normal body weight or above because of their frequent binges and purges, which can range from once or twice a week to several times a day.  If a person binge eats at least once a week for 3 months. It may be a sign of binge eating disorder.

Symptoms for Bulimia

  • Overeat and feel out of control to stop.
  • Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time and under similar circumstances.
  • Often gain weight, and may become very overweight.
  • Do things to make up make up for overeating. They may make themselves throw up on purpose after they overeat. This is called purging. To prevent weight gain they may use laxatives, diuretics, weight loss pills, fast or exercise a lot.
  • A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).
  • Judge them based on body shape and weight.
  • May feel upset or guilty after binge eating.

Bulimia can have injuring effects, such as gastrointestinal problems, severe dehydration, and heart difficulties resulting from an electrolyte imbalance.

3. Binge Eating Disorder

     Individuals who suffer from Binge Eating Disorder will frequently lose control over his or her eating. Because of this, many people suffering from BED may be obese and at an increased risk of developing other conditions, such as cardiovascular disease.

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

  • Eating large amounts of foods rapidly, in secret and until uncomfortably full, despite not feeling hungry.
  • Eating, in a discrete period of time.
  • Feeling a lack of control during episodes of binge eating.
  • A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode
  • Feelings of distress, such as shame, disgust or guilt, when thinking about the binge eating behavior.
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry, Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
  • No use of purging behaviors, such as calorie restriction, vomiting, excessive exercise or laxative or diuretic use, to compensate for the binging.
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward.

Individuals who suffer from Binge Eating Disorder will frequently lose control over his or her eating. The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months.

4. Pica

    Pica is another eating disorder that involves eating things that are not considered food. This disorder may particularly affect children, pregnant women, and individuals with mental disabilities.

     Individuals with pica crave non-food substances, such as ice, dirt, soil, chalk, soap, paper, hair, cloth, wool, pebbles, laundry detergent or cornstarch.

Causes for Eating Disorder

     The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. As with other mental illnesses, there may be many causes. Here’s no single cause for eating disorders Genes, environment and stressful events all play a role. Some things can increase a person’s chance of having an eating disorder, such as:

  • Poor body image.
  • Certain people may have genes that increase their risk of developing eating disorders. Biological factors, such as changes in brain chemicals, may play a role in eating disorders.
  • Irregular hormone functions.
  • Too much focus on weight or looks.
  • Dieting at a young age.
  • Nutritional deficiencies.
  • People with eating disorders may have psychological and emotional problems that contribute to the disorder.
  • Professions and careers that promote being thin and weight loss, such as ballet and modeling.
  • Playing sports that focus on weight (gymnastics, ballet, ice skating, and wrestling).
  • Having a family member with an eating disorder.
  • They may have low self-esteem, perfectionism, impulsive behavior and troubled relationships.
  • Mental health problems such as anxiety, depression or OCD.
  • Thyroid problems are extremely common population-wide and are an issue for some in recovery from eating disorders as well.


     Treatment of eating disorders nearly always includes cognitive-behavioral or group psychotherapy. Medications may also be appropriate and have been found to be effective for some in the treatment of these disorders, when combined with psychotherapy. Eating disorders are best treated by a team that includes a doctor, dietitian and therapist. Even if your loved one isn’t ready to acknowledge having an issue with food you can open the door by expressing concern and a desire to listen.

Nutrition: This would involve weight restoration and stabilization, guidance for normal eating and the integration of an individualized meal plan.

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