According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. (ANAD) at least 30 million people of varying ages and genders suffer from eating disorders in the U.S. alone. Every hour someone dies due to an eating disorder, making eating disorders the deadliest diseases of all mental illnesses.
There are several different types of eating disorders but the most common include the following:
- Anorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder where the suffering individual obsessively works to maintain their “ideal” body weight through self-starvation and/or excessive exercise. Typical behaviors include—restriction of daily food intake; constant dieting, exercising, and/or fasting; body checking others in a comparative fashion; unrealistic perceptions of body image and weight; feeling shame and guilt about one’s own appearance; chewing their food-pretending to swallow and then spitting it out; moving food around on a plate to give the appearance they are actually eating; being obsessed by food caloric labels; classic perfectionism in all aspects of life; and incessant denial that a problem may exist.
- Bulimia nervosa is a type of eating disorder where the suffering individual will engage in binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting (purging). Typical behaviors include—vomiting following the intake of food; frequent to daily intake of laxatives and/or diuretics, over-exercising to “balance the scale;” feeling shame and guilt about eating; unrealistic perceptions of body image and weight; swelling and/or scars on knuckles; dental disorders—erosion of enamel; erosion of the esophagus; and feelings of depression and irritability.
- Binge Eating Disorder is a type of eating disorder that is similar to bulimia where the suffering individual will engage in binge eating without the purging aspect. Typical behaviors include—excessive overeating in short periods of time; eating regardless of being full or hungry; continuing to eat despite feeling full and bloated; feeling guilt and shame for out of control binging episodes; eating in secret to avoid feelings of shame; feelings of depression, guilt, shame and disgust with oneself.
Although it is difficult to pinpoint an exact cause for eating disorders, this type of illness is commonly attributed to the social, biological, and psychological characteristics of one’s life.
- Social factors involve how an individual is interconnected within their own social structure. The beginning of many eating disorders can be attributed to dysfunctional family structures. For example, it is common to discover that eating disorder sufferers were either raped or abused as a child. There are then other sufferers who live within perfectly healthy family structures, but in their scholastic or professional careers, they fall prey to social pressures e.g. in school there is high value placed on being thin and tiny that influences dieting habits and in many professions emphasis is placed on weight loss and being in top physical shape.
- Biological factors involve the innerworkings of one’s own body. Research suggests that many individuals with eating disorders suffer from abnormal hormone imbalances and nutritional deficiencies.
- Psychological factors involve one’s perception of their body and how they feel their body should look all stemming from the core issues of a sense of low self-esteem and unworthiness.
- Environmental factors involve family dynamics including relationship issues between siblings and parents, overbearing or under-caring parents, family traumas and childhood traumas. Physical, emotional and sexual traumas play a significant role on one’s psyche altering the perception and relationship that they have with themselves. Cultural, familial and peer pressure to fit in to a certain physical mold also play significant roles in developing eating disorders. Even one’s profession can become a toxic environment inducing eating disorders to maintain an aesthetically pleasing optimally performing body, these professions include but are not limited too modeling, ballet, dancing, swimming, diving, rowing, wrestling, gymnastics, bobsledding, skiing, track and field and marathon running. Major life changes including graduation, marriage, expanding your family, losing family members, losing relationships, changing careers and physical changes can breed disordered eating.
Once an eating disorder begins to make itself present in one’s life physical and psychological changes are made within the body in an effort to sustain the new patterns of irrational thinking and abnormal dysfunctional eating as a way to compensate for the change in function.
Eating disorders are intricate physical and psychological illnesses that in some instances can feel like are chosen out of the need for one to control the only aspect of their life they feel they can and that they “can stop anytime” but, it’s not in essence entirely true. Eating disorders are biological, psychological and social diseases. Numerous research around genetics show that there are biological, emotional, social and environmental factors that predispose people to developing eating disorders. Eating disorders have the tendency to occur within families and coincide with other disorders including anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Out of all the psychiatric illnesses, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate as these disorders are life-threatening conditions. Eating disorders have serious and even life altering consequences to one’s physical and emotional health as well as one’s quality of life as it effects each aspect of one’s life.
- Anorexia Nervosa commonly known as Anorexia, is a cycle of self-starvation as the body is denied the nutrients needed to properly function. The body goes into what you can call a “limp mode” all physiological processes slowdown in order to use what nutrients that are available to maintain as many vital chemical processes that it can to sustain one’s life. This is a compensatory mechanism that will not last forever and the changes you can see when your body is beginning to fail include cardiovascular changes which could lead to heart failure. Bones, muscles, skin and hair also go through changes becoming more brittle, thin and weak. Overall weakness, fatigue, near fainting and fainting also occur.
- Bulimia Nervosa commonly known as Bulimia, is a cycle of bingeing and purging, not only is the body denied of essential nutrients, but drastic digestive system changes can occur. Electrolyte imbalances can lead to heart and kidney failure caused by a loss and imbalance of electrolyte essential to normal body functioning due to purging behaviors. Frequent vomiting causes dehydration, inflammation, acid build up, tooth decay, tooth staining, irregular bowel movements, gastric ulcers, and even risk of esophageal and gastric rupture.
- Binge Eating Disorder which is the abnormal consumption of abnormally large amounts of food in small amounts of time is associated with health issues related to obesity including high blood pressure, high triglyceride and high cholesterol levels. Heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes are also associated with this disorder.
Yes! Binge eating disorder causes the same physical effects that are found with those who are obese. Each eating disorder affects the body in different ways, but you are either depriving your body of essential nutrients or overloading your body with harmful nonessential nutrients all causing negative effects on one’s digestive ability to break down, absorb and excrete food products causing metabolism and fat storage issues.
Yes! If left untreated eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of any psychiatric illness.
Anorexia nervosa manifests itself as one who restricts their intake, at first it can look as if one is “just trying to watch what they eat,” but soon develops into something where one “rarely, if ever eats.” There is also something called Orthorexia Nervosa which is someone is preoccupied, even obsessed with only consuming “healthy food.” In this society we live in today this type of disorder would be admired even praised by the consensus, but little does everyone know even this disorder wreaks havoc on one’s physical and emotional state of being.
Bulimia Nervosa manifests itself as one who binges on large amounts of food in small amounts of time and then rids themselves of the food by purging. Anorexia Nervosa can be seen outwardly by someone who is underweight, and Bulimia Nervosa can be seen outwardly as someone who is slightly above average or at an average weight. This is not always the case though. Either disorder can present in a variety of different body shapes and sizes. Also, someone with an eating disorder can commonly develop multiple eating disorders including have anorexic, orthorexic and bulimic behaviors; all of which should be diagnosed by a health care professional.
Eating disorders do not discriminate against gender, race or sex. Eating disorders have the tendency to occur more in females, more research is showing the growing number of males and non-gender individuals who suffer from eating disorders. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) states the disease of eating disorders have stigmatized men into realizing, admitting and seeking help from eating disorders. Research studies estimate that males represent a quarter of the individuals with eating disorders. Treatment programs and eating disorder specialists are working hard to destigmatize the myth of men with eating disorders while making seeking treatment options more comfortable and accepting of males.
Of course. The people of the LGBT community have to deal with incredible struggles that are unique to their community related to sexual, gender and self-expression. Harassment, discrimination, prejudice and violence is a daily occurrence for many of these individuals in all areas of their life. All these experiences can lead to feelings of unworthiness, shame, loneliness, depression, guilt, anxiety and low self-esteem all contributing to the development of an eating disorder. Seeking treatment can even be more difficult for these individuals determining on the amount of lack of support that they have from family, friends and society in general. There are treatment programs that can provide care that is congruent with the beliefs of these individuals.
Eating disorders, specifically anorexia and bulimia are found within individuals with perfectionistic tendencies, those who feel like they must be perfect in everything they do, please all of the people around them, who are sensitive to criticism and doubt themselves. These people aren’t able to adapt to change well and are heavily future oriented. Eating disorders are also found within individuals who are extroverts, adrenaline seekers, novelty seekers and impulsive possibly to the point of having trouble maintaining jobs and relationships. Eating disorders aren’t black and white, they can be found in any individual with any personality type, these are just the main types that have been found within research.
Eating disorders don’t discriminate against age, gender, race or sex, there is no difference when it comes to age. Eating Disorders can appear or re-appear at any time in one’s life. In recent years there has been increased numbers of diagnosis’ in children and adolescents. Those who suffer or have suffered from eating disorders state the thoughts and behaviors that led to their eating disorder began in ages much younger than anyone would have expected. Eating disorders can also start later in one’s life due to a new disorder onset or a relapse of a previous disorder. proving that any age is a viable age for eating disorders.
World renowned eating disorder organizations including Academy for Eating Disorders, National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) and American Psychiatric Association have published evidenced based guidelines indicating parents don’t particularly cause eating disorders. In history parents, specifically mothers, were blamed for being the cause of their child’s disorder but recent research outlines eating disorders as having multiple root causes specifically biological causes. One’s environment including their family dynamics, relationships with their relatives and memories as a child can impact a person in a way that adds to the reason an eating disorder gets created but that is only one of the many pieces that lead to an eating disorder. To ease your mind, no, parents cannot individually cause their child’s eating disorders.
There is not one specific cause of an eating disorder, as we said these are complex diseases which develop differently and specifically to those affected. There are not published parental guidelines to raise your child in the effort of preventing the development of an eating disorder but there are some things you can do to help alleviate the strain on your child if you believe they are or already have developed an eating disorder. The greatest thing you can do for your child is to seek professional help, so your child can get the care they need to recover from this disease. Drastic improvements are being seen in the rate of recovery in children, adolescents and young adults when parents are open minded and open hearted about being included in their loved one’s treatment process.
Eating disorders are not black and white, they live in a state of gray which makes it difficult explaining to loved ones of any age how one suffers with an eating disorder. How you explain an eating disorder to a loved one whether they are young or older depends on their age as well as their cognitive, emotional and social development. After considering the person’s developmental age a great deal of judgement must come on your part. Regarding children, many do not realize just how observant, curious and intelligent children are naturally. They have a sense that something is going on even though they may not be able to verbalize it. Validating the child’s emotions by acknowledging the presence of an issue within the family or environment can allow the child to feel honored, safe and informed.
Here is a list of statements that may help young children understand eating disorders and their suffering family member. When thinking of what to say come from a place of love and support in a nonjudgmental manner. Allow the conversation to flow freely and don’t be afraid to bring some topics up or to answer the questions that they have. In any sense it is very important to let the young one know that it is not their fault, that you love them and that you are here to help them get better.
- “Eating food helps you stay strong, healthy and happy but sometimes people can’t eat food in ways that lets them stay strong, healthy and happy, sometimes they need a little more help from the one’s they love like us to help them eat better and become healthy and happy again.”
- “Mom/Dad/Sister/Brother etc., has trouble eating sometimes. We are trying to work together to help them eat and become healthy again.”
- “Mom/Dad/Sister/Brother etc., can get very scared, uncomfortable and upset when they eat with us at home or in restaurants. I want you to know that it is not your fault and you have done nothing wrong. There is nothing to be afraid of as we are going to help them get the help they need so they can hopefully eat a little better.”
- “You may have noticed the changes in your Mom/Dad/Sister/Brother etc., when they talk about food, hear about food or even eat food. I wanted to ask you if you had any questions about the way they have been acting? Would you like to talk about something?”
- “Having trouble eating can be very scary, I want you to know that I am here for you. I am here to help you, you can tell me anything that frightens you?”
Realizing that you have an issue and need help is a major step on the road to recovery. It’s important that you know that it is okay and that there are people who can help you. We encourage you to reach out to someone you trust, you’ll find a sense of relief when you release the burden that has been placed upon you with an eating disorder but don’t stop there, take a deep breath and seek professional help.
It’s good you are noticing the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder and that you want to do something to try and help your loved one. Eating disorders are complex serious diseases that can lead to death, it is important that you encourage your loved one to seek professional help for appropriate consultation, diagnosis and subsequent treatment plan. It will take some courage on your part to confront your loved one, try and do it in a loving caring nonjudgmental manner, don’t force the issue but don’t give up either.
Yes! Recovery is possible! You have the ability to recover from your eating disorder. You have the ability to rid yourself of the constant obsession and torture of suffering from an eating disorder, but it takes time, a willingness to recommit to yourself and your body and an openness to mess up and forgive yourself. Recovery is a life long journey but that’s just the thing with recovery you have a life.
Recovery varies greatly from person to person. It has been said to be a life long journey. When most people who have eating disorders hear that they become very emotional, sad, depressed and even angry. Eating disorders cause a lot of pain to the one’s who have the disorder as well as the loved ones around that individual. It is hard to think that you will be suffering from eating disorders for the rest of the life but in many cases, it is not true. Yes, you do have an eating disorder and parts of your eating disorder may always reside within you, but the awareness that comes from seeking professional treatment, the tools that we give you will allow you to combat those parts of your eating disorder. Even those who are fully recovered still have to take proactive steps in staying in recovery including planning meals, checking in with therapists, dieticians and doctors. You can learn to live eating disorder free, but it TAKES TIME and more importantly a dedication to your life and your body. Throughout your recovery you may, well you probably will have many ups and downs which is exactly how life is, sometimes your up and sometimes your down but we promise you a life of recovery is WORTH IT. YOU are WORTH IT.
Treatment of any eating disorder is complex and multi-faceted involving emotional, behavioral and nutritional monitoring and rehabilitation. Professionally trained doctors, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, therapists and dieticians will be in constant contact with you or your loved one. These professionals will come together as a team to create a comprehensive plan to help you or your loved one. You will be taught how to monitor your thoughts, feeling and behaviors relating to your eating disorder. You will be aided in identifying irrational thoughts and feelings, eating disorder behaviors and physical, emotional and environmental triggers helping you to reduce and normalize your disorder. You will be shown how to challenge your beliefs and feelings related to your worthiness, weight and self-esteem. We will get down to the root of your eating disorder, give you healthy coping skills to combat your thinking and behaviors as well as formulate comprehensive meal plans showing you how to properly receive all nutrients necessary to fuel your body all while being monitored physically under doctor supervision. There are various programs and through consultation with the treatment facility depending on your eating disorder severity a program meeting your specific needs will be offered whether it be partial hospitalization, inpatient hospitalization or intensive outpatient programs.
If you resonate with any of the above answers to these questions, if you think you have an eating disorder, if your physical and psychological symptoms have continued to occur and even worsened, if you find yourself constantly flooded with thoughts regarding food, body image and weight or if you feel like your body is starting to change, starting to alter itself in a way that you find differences in your ability to function on a day to day basis then a great place to begin is by receiving a comprehensive evaluation from one of our treatment centers which will allow trained professionals including therapists, dieticians and doctors to evaluate you on mental, physical, medical and emotional levels of functioning to come to a professional conclusion on which treatment plan is the most safe and beneficial for your particular needs.
Your benefits will be verified by our employees and you will be contacted by an admissions coordinator who will share your coverage as it applies to our treatment programs whether you are being admitted to hospital, inpatient, or partial programs. Because eating disorders are a mental illness admission to our program will be documented as a mental health admission and will be authorized under the mental health portion of your insurance.