Eating Disorders

  • Overview of Eating Disorders


    Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating are the most common types of eating disorders.  The exact cause is unknown, but eating disorders are complex conditions which are considered mental illnesses with several possible triggers:

    • Biological (it runs in families)
    • Psychological and emotional health
    • Societal impacts (cultural pressure to be thin, peer pressure, and media influence).

    While anorexia and bulimia are seen primarily in females, it affects males as well, just in fewer numbers.  Binge-eating disorder, on the other hand, is seen in equal numbers for both sexes. Eating disorders may result in serious physical problems, and if severe, may lead to life-threatening conditions. 

    Signs and symptoms vary with each disorder and includes things like not eating enough or refusing to eat, eating too much, self-induced vomiting, and excessive exercise.  Eating disorders are difficult to control without medical help and treatment involves a combination of psychotherapy, nutrition education, family counseling, medications and hospitalization.  For the most effective treatment, the team of practitioners (doctors, mental health providers, and dietitians) should all have experience with eating disorders.

    Warning signs of a potential eating disorder:

    • Skipping meals
    • Making excuses for not eating
    • Eating only a few certain “safe” foods, usually those low in fat and calories
    • Adopting rigid meal or eating rituals, such as cutting food into tiny pieces or spitting food out after chewing
    • Cooking elaborate meals for others, but refusing to eat them themselves
    • Withdrawing from normal social activities
    • Persistent worry or complaining about being fat
    • A distorted body image, such as complaining about being fat despite being underweight
    • Not wanting to eat in public
    • Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws
    • Wearing baggy or layered clothing
    • Repeatedly eating large amounts of sweet or high-fat foods
    • Use of dietary supplements or herbal products for weight loss

    Risk Factors involved in eating disorders:

    • Primarily being female, although eating disorders are seen in males
    • Age – most commonly occurs in teens and early 20’s
    • Family history – occurs more frequently in families with a history of eating disorders
    • Family influences – parents may be overly critical, individual may be teased about appearance
    • Emotional disorders – depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder
    • Dieting – may take dieting too far, resulting in eating disorder
    • Transitions (changing schools, going to college, etc.) cause emotional stress which may trigger an eating disorder
    • Sports, work and artistic activities – eating disorders are more common in people who engage in certain interests and/or occupations – dance, acting, modeling, TV personalities

    Possible complications of eating disorders:

    • Death
    • Heart disease
    • Depression
    • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
    • Absence of menstruation (amenorrhea)
    • Bone loss
    • Stunted growth
    • Seizures
    • Digestive problems
    • Bowel irregularities
    • Kidney damage
    • Severe tooth decay
    • High or low blood pressure
    • Type 2 diabetes
    • Gallbladder disease