What are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses that are characterized by irregular eating habits and related emotional distress. The three most common types eating disorders are:
Anorexia nervosa is characterized by restricting food intake.
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating behaviors, followed by compensatory purging in the form of self- induced vomiting, laxative abuse, over-exercising, for example.
Binge eating disorder is characterized by eating large quantities of food in relatively short periods of time, followed by guilt or shame.
How do they present themselves?
Eating disorders can present themselves differently depending on the type, but some of the more common signs and symptoms can be presented by:
Fixation on calories and nutrient content of foods
Preoccupation with food and meal planning
Negative body image (despite body size and shape)
How do they happen?
There is a genetic predisposition to developing an eating disorder, however psychological and environmental factors are really how they manifest. For example, those with low self-esteem, trauma history, perfectionism traits, and body dissatisfaction are all strong risk factors. In addition, the diet culture and weight stigma that exists in the world today increases the likelihood of an already predisposed individual to an eating disorder developing.
Who is at Risk?
More than 30 million people in the US will suffer from an eating disorder and they do not discriminate. They can happen to any gender, any race, any body size, any age, any socio-economic status, any ethnicity, or any education level. The majority of eating disorders happen between the ages 18-25.
What does treatment look like?
Support, support, support! Because of the severity and complexity of the illness, a treatment team consisting of a doctor, dietitian, and therapist who specialize in eating disorders is paramount. Recognizing and addressing the eating disorder, or even getting screened if you suspect you or a loved one is suffering is fundamental to promoting recovery. There are varying levels of support depending on the severity of the illness, but it is important to note that if there is any degree of suffering involved with food or eating then one is worthy of seeking help.
For more information, head to the National Eating Disorders Association at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org or contact the helpline 800-931-2237.