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What Are Eating Disorders?
Some people with eating disorders may excessively control what they eat, while others lack a sense of control over their food consumption. Without treatment, eating disorders can be deadly. People with eating disorders tend to have a negative self image and spend a lot of time focusing on their weight or shape. They are unable to maintain the minimal expected body weight.
Anorexia nervosa is a condition where people will avoid eating to the point of starvation, perhaps even convincing themselves they are not hungry. They also may exercise to an extreme, desiring to burn more calories even when underweight.
People with bulimia nervosa find themselves in a cycle of binge eating and purging. They may suffer from shame and even avoid eating where people can see them.
Binge eating disorder occurs when someone eats excessive amounts of food at least once a week for a period of at least three months.
Eating disorders take a great physical toll on the body, since it is not receiving the nutrients it needs. They can cause the loss of hair, teeth, bone strength, muscle, and body fat. Additional symptoms can include depression, confusion, anxiety, constipation, and mood swings. Purging can cause worn enamel on the teeth, a chronically inflamed throat, dehydration, and acid reflux. Overtime, eating disorders can cause sluggishness, organ failure, and even death.
While some people with an eating disorder appear abnormally thin, others can appear healthy. They may disengage from social circles and hide what’s happening to them until their physical symptoms become more apparent. For example, celebrities and athletes often struggle with eating disorders while in the public eye.
Other Signs of an Eating Disorder:
- Restricted eating or even eliminating certain foods from their diet
- Low body weight
- Focus on calorie counting
- Not eating around people
- Fear of gaining weight
- Refusing to acknowledge an unhealthy relationship with food
Statistics on Eating Disorders
- Half of people with eating disorders abuse alcohol and/or illegal drugs
- The majority of women with bulimia nervosa have co-occurring anxiety disorders
How Eating Disorders Are Treated
Treatment for eating disorders co-occurring with substance abuse requires custom plans tailored to each person’s situation. Inpatient medical care in a mental health program may be necessary for people who are severely malnourished, and nutritional rehabilitation can help gradually increase nutrient intake.
Psychosocial treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, or interpersonal psychotherapy, can help as well. These can be tailored to take into account co-occurring disorders. For example, cognitive approaches can help the person through the thought processes that drive their actions, and behavioral therapy can help them alter their eating behavior. Eating disorders can become chronic, so long-term care and ongoing support are important for physical and psychological healing.