Our society is consumed with self-image and weight loss. We have become weight obsessed and the media continues to suggest thinness is desirable. A goal of weight loss (or gain) for health is important. An eating disorder takes weight loss, body concerns, and eating to an extreme. A healthy practice becomes an obsession that causes abnormal eating patterns that will ultimately compromise health. Eating disorders interrupt a person’s ability to function and can impact relationships, work or school, and mental health.

How do you know if you have an Eating Disorder?

There are several types of eating disorders. Each has different patterns of behavior, but all include a distorted view of the body and unhealthy patterns of eating. Eating disorders impact both men and women. Self-esteem becomes severely compromised and often individuals start to isolate, eat alone, attempt to hide their eating and exercise patterns from others, and have difficulty controlling emotions.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by a distorted body image. This distortion causes the individual to view self as overweight, where as in reality they are thin, possibly underweight. People with anorexia nervosa often restrict food and engage in excessive exercise. Anorexia nervosa is associated with strict dieting and weight loss. To the individual with anorexia nervosa they are overweight, and food restriction and hours of strenuous exercise is how they attempt to lose weight. Often there is a “goal weight” the individual is trying to achieve, but a distorted body image causes the individual to never be satisfied with weight.

Anorexia Nervosa causes extreme weight loss and is associated with many health issues due to malnutrition. Individuals with Anorexia Nervosa have low self-esteem, feel hopeless, and are not happy or satisfied with their body. Some other traits of individuals with anorexia nervosa include perfectionism and a need to control.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by eating excessive amounts of food and attempting to purge the food from the body. Due to a fear and worry about the amount of calories consumed a person will purge by vomiting, laxatives, enemas or diuretics, and excessive exercise. Individuals with bulimia nervosa may maintain a healthy weight or may be overweight. They often binge eat alone and in secret. Binge eating is followed by feelings of shame and guilt. Once purged the individual will feel relaxed and less emotionally upset. Individuals with Bulimia Nervosa are impulsive, lack self-esteem, and feel ashamed of their body.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder is characterized by frequent out of control eating episodes. Individuals with binge eating do not purge the body of extra calories and not restrict food. This can cause excess weight and health complications due to improper nutrition. Often binge eating causes feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem, and overwhelming negative emotions.

Other types of Eating Disorders

There are other types of eating disorders that consist of patterns of unhealthy and extreme eating and distorted body image. The individual may not restrict or binge and purge. Other types of distorted eating are associated with low self-esteem, dissatisfaction with body image, and difficulty controlling emotions.

Eating Disorder Causes

There are no specific causes for eating disorders, however there are some risk factors.

  • Eating disorders are genetic and a family history can put an individual at risk for developing eating disordered patterns.
  • Family members and friends may tease a person about their body and weight.
  • Sometimes individuals involved in sports have concerns about their body image and may be at risk for an eating disorder.
  • Depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions can be a risk factor for developing an eating disorder.
  • Traumas, such as rape, abuse, or loss can be risk factors for eating disorders.
  • Stress, even good stress, can trigger an eating disorder.
  • Concern about weight loss and body image can trigger the patterns of abnormal eating.

Eating Disorder Concerns

If you or someone you love is concerned about weight, body image, and patterns of eating, it is necessary to seek help from a medical provider, a registered dietician, and a mental health professional. An eating disorder will impact physical health, cause conflict in relationships, and will have a negative impact on emotional and mental health.

A medical provider is needed to assess and treat any medical issues that develop due to malnutrition. Some health effects of an eating disorder include:

  • Anemia
  • Constipation
  • Osteoporosis
  • Heart and brain damage
  • Sore throat (due to vomiting and purging)
  • Worn-away tooth enamel
  • Acid reflux
  • Heart attacks
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Seek mental health treatment

A therapist is needed to help challenge negative and distorted thoughts about the body and eating. A mental health professional will help the individual improve health, emotions, relationships, and address the issues underlying the eating disorder behaviors.

Eating disorders can be treated and managed. The sooner a person receives help, the more likely they are to overcome the negative health and emotional implications. Working with a physician, a dietician, and a licensed therapist is the best way to overcome disordered eating. A therapist can help improve self-esteem, help an individual with an eating disorder feel in control of their eating, and help improve quality of life.