Eating Disorders

Basics:

  • Eating disorders involve significant impairments around food and diet.
  • They may include eating large amounts of food in a single episode (binge eating), severely restricting daily food intake (anorexia), or using behaviors to control weight and consequences of eating (purging or inducing vomiting, excessive exercise).
  • Eating disorders typically emerge in adolescence, but may be present as early as childhood and later in adulthood.
  • Although often seen as a white female problem, recent trends suggest males and members of ethnic groups are experiencing problems with eating disorders.
  • Generally, individuals suffering from eating disorders may experience distorted body images (i.e., thinking s/he is too fat when s/he is emaciated) and distress about weight.

Risks:

  • Unrecognized and untreated eating disorders, especially anorexia and bulimia, have the potential to severely impact a person’s health and in some cases may lead to premature death.

Symptoms:

  • Extreme thinness (anorexia) or seemingly normal weight (bulimia)
  • Hiding body beneath lose fitting clothing (anorexia) in an effort to prevent discovery of the problem
  • Restricted eating (e.g., eating infrequently, eating very little or very small portions; anorexia)
  • Use of excessive exercise, diuretics, and laxatives (anorexia and bulimia)
  • Purging or inducing self to vomit following eating (as a means to control perceived weight gain)
  • Electrolyte imbalances (caused by vomiting)
  • Secrecy and guardedness about eating behaviors

Prevention:

  • Accurate information about eating disorders may contribute significantly to treatment and reducing risks. Negative messages in the media about body image may be countered with balanced, accurate information about eating disorders and their consequences.
  • Early detection and assessment by qualified health and mental health professionals is an important element of prevention.

Treatment:

  • Comprehensive treatment involves accurate assessment by qualified professionals and may involve structured environments (hospitals, intensive outpatient treatment).
  • Treatment teams may include nutritionists, physicians, and psychiatrists in addition to psychotherapists.