Facts About Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are a group of related conditions that cause serious emotional and physical problems. When one becomes so preoccupied with food and weight issues that it’s harder and harder to focus on other aspects of life, it may be an early sign of an eating disorder.
Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, in which people will deny themselves food to the point of self-starvation; and bulimia nervosa, in which people feel out of control and binge on very large amounts of food during short periods of time, and then desperately try to rid themselves of the extra calories using forced vomiting, abusing laxatives or excessive exercise; and Binge Eating Disorder (BED), in which a person loses control over their eating and eats a very large amount of food in a short period of time, but does not attempt to purge or exercise excessively like someone living with anorexia or bulimia would. Without treatment, eating disorders can take over a person’s life and lead to serious, potentially fatal medical complications. Eating disorders can affect people of any age or gender, but rates are higher among women. Symptoms commonly appear in adolescence and young adulthood.
Symptoms of Eating Disorders
Symptoms must meet the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in order to warrant a diagnosis. Each eating disorder has its own diagnostic criteria that a mental health professional will use to determine which disorder is involved. It is not necessary to have all the criteria for a disorder to benefit from working with a mental health professional on food and eating issues.
Often a person with an eating disorder will have symptoms of another mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, that requires treatment. Whenever possible, it is best to identified and address all conditions at the same time. This gives a person comprehensive treatment support that helps insure a lasting recovery.
Treatment and Support for Those With Eating Disorders and Their Families
Treatments include psychotherapy, medicine, nutritional counseling and weight restoration monitoring, and support groups.
Each person’s treatment will depend on the type of eating disorder, but generally it will include psychotherapy along with medical monitoring and nutritional counseling. Family-based treatment is especially important for families with children and adolescents because it enlists the families’ help to better insure healthy eating patterns and increases awareness and support.
Many people receive treatment for an eating disorder without needing an intensive treatment setting. However, for some people, an inpatient or residential eating disorder treatment center or partial hospital setting is best when they begin treatment. Others may need hospitalization to treat serious problems caused by poor nutrition or for care if they are very underweight.
Support groups, nutrition counseling and medications are also helpful to some individuals.
Psychotherapy should be provided by a mental health professional with experience in treating eating disorders. Because of the complexity, therapy needs to address both the symptoms and a person’s psychological, interpersonal and cultural influences which contributed to the disorder.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often successfully used in the treatment of eating disorders because it helps people understand the relationship between their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. CBT that is developed for the treatment of bulimia is very effective at changing the binge-purge behaviors and eating attitudes.
Wellness and Nutrition Counseling involves professionals helping a patient return to a normal weight. Dietitians and other health care providers can help change old habits and beliefs about food, dieting and exercise with healthy nutrition and eating information and planning. Sometimes planning and monitoring responsibilities are shared with mental health professionals or family members.
We also recommend our NAMI support groups and classes for those living with mental health conditions, as well as their families and loved ones; find a local support group run by a California affiliate.
Stories and posts about living with or being impacted by eating disorders coming soon. Telling personal stories of recovery can be one of the most effective ways to diminish stigma and help individuals and families who are facing challenges related to mental health conditions. Submit your story for consideration.