Eating disorders are a serious mental illness that can cause life-threatening health problems. Eating disorders involve disturbances in eating behavior and body image accompanied by other psychological issues such as depression and anxiety. The four most common eating disorders identified by the DSM-V are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders.
Eating disorders can affect any age, gender, or race. They may manifest differently depending on the age of the individual — for instance, children and young teens are more likely to experience dysregulated eating and are less likely to binge/purge. A recent study estimates that about half a million teens in the United States struggle with an eating disorder.
Several contributing factors can lead to the development of an eating disorder in most individuals. These form the biopsychosocial model, and include: 1) Biological (e.g., Eating disorders run in families suggesting a genetic contribution), 2) Psychological (e.g., Depression, anxiety, anger, stress, low self-esteem), 3) Social (e.g., Cultural pressures and norms that value physical appearance, discrimination based on size or shape), and 4) Interpersonal (e.g., History of bullying or abuse, difficulty expressing emotions, troubled relationships).
Eating disorders are complex, and those suffering from them often try to cope with overwhelming feelings and emotions using food and the control of food. Restricting, bingeing, purging, and other disordered eating behaviors may begin as a way to cope with painful emotions and to feel in control. Ultimately, the eating disorder destroys self-esteem, competence, and one’s control.
Eating disorders can have a huge impact on the person struggling, as well as family members or friends. If you are concerned that your loved one is struggling from an eating disorder, here are some common warning signs to look for:
- Bingeing and purging
- Secretive eating or hiding food
- Avoiding eating in public or with others
- Excessive and compulsive exercise
- Abuse of laxatives, diet pills and/or diuretics
- Expressing loss of control with food
- Feeling guilty after eating
- Intense mood swings and irritability
- Heightened anxiety and obsessiveness, especially around food
- Low self-esteem
- Distorted body image
- Wearing loose or multiple layers of clothing
- Absences of three consecutive menstrual cycles
- Swollen glands in neck and puffiness in cheeks
- Chronic sore throat
- Hair loss, paleness, and dizziness
What to do if you or someone you know is struggling from an eating disorder?
Our practitioners specializing in eating disorders use a comprehensive team approach (e.g., therapy along with consultation with a nutritionist, psychiatrist, medical doctor, and other providers) to address each factor of the biopsychosocial model in treatment. If we don’t address each factor, the eating disorder cycle will resurface and eventually each facet will need to be dealt with. Comprehensive treatment often involves both individual and family therapy. We use a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and interpersonal psychotherapy, which have all been proven effective in treating eating disorders.
We recognize that recovery can be a long and difficult process. Don’t try to get help on your own; our professionals can help you and your family find the motivation and the tools that you need to overcome an eating disorder and achieve complete recovery.