Eating Disorders: Causes, Types & Treatment Options

What are Eating Disorders and How to Get Help

More than just weight or appearance, eating disorders can have severe and even fatal consequences. Given the nature of the disorders, they can also be quite difficult to spot in the early stages. Later on, though, these issues become obvious. The treatment of an eating disorder necessitates a multidisciplinary approach and rehabilitation with professional aid. This is due to the fact that all eating disorders have mental health as their origin and that both dietary and medical interventions are necessary to treat their physical effects. Psychological interventions are usually implemented thereafter to treat the underlying issue.

What to Know About Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is a negative link between weight and food that affects many elements of a person’s life. Most people who suffer from eating disorders have low self-esteem and hold themselves to unattainable standards. They are unable to regulate their ideas about food and weight, and eating disorders can go hand in hand with intensive and even unhealthy activity. Sports figures, athletes, artists, actors, and public figures are typically more vulnerable. As the issue worsens, the disorder changes regular biological processes and daily routines. Serious health issues emerge, including potentially fatal modifications to cardiac rhythm.
Though men are increasingly being diagnosed with eating disorders, women still make up the majority of those who suffer from eating disorders. Young women are particularly vulnerable, but people of many ages and cultures experience eating problems.
Most persons struggling with eating disorders do not seek treatment for them. Those who do seek treatment typically do it at a facility. Unfortunately, even now, programs specifically catering to healing from eating disorders are not as common in rehabilitation facilities as they should be This is remarkable given that eating disorders result in significant fatalities. It’s estimated that every 62 minutes, someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder. Although there are many different ways that an eating problem can lead to death, the most common ones are heart failure, organ failure, malnutrition, and suicide.

Types of Eating Disorders

There are several types of eating disorders. They include:

  • Anorexia nervosa — Even though their weight is clearly low, individuals with anorexia nervosa believe they are overweight. They have a false perception of their bodies and are more prone to starve themselves by restricting their calorie intake and “purging” (vomiting). They may try using any method necessary, such as fad diets and drug use, to drop a lot of weight quickly. To maintain or reduce weight, anorexics may use illegal substances like stimulants.
  • Bulimia and binge eating — Bulimic people could overeat in one sitting and then purge later to prevent weight gain. It’s vital to note that people with bulimia might not always vomit right after eating; instead, they might turn to laxatives, water tablets, strenuous exercise, or calorie restriction. The first indication of the condition, if purging is the preferred method, can appear following a dental exam, as the action of persistently forcing themselves to vomit leads to tooth and gum damage.
  • Binge eating disorder — Uncontrolled eating that is not followed by purging is a symptom of a binge eating disorder. They may consume enormous amounts of food and then despise themselves afterward, yet they still binge eat. People who suffer from binge eating disorder may occasionally switch between periods of bingeing and fasting or dieting.
  • Compulsive overeating — Those who compulsively overeat may consume thousands of calories more than they would normally. Overeating compulsively can be a symptom of chronic stress or a way to compensate for vast and extensive emotional deficits in one’s life.
  • Night Eating Syndrome (NES)About 1 in 100 Americans are impacted by this recently discovered eating condition. After 8 p.m., people with NES consume more than half of their usual calorie intake. NES affects one-third of those with morbid obesity.
  • Pica — Pica may occur when people consume nonfood items for an extended period of time (more than once per month). Items other than food can include talcum powder, soap, fabric, paper, or dirt. Nonfood consumption can cause severe illnesses or poisoning. It frequently coexists with intellectual impairments or spectrum disorders.
  • Rumination disorder — When suffering from rumination disorder, a person will regurgitate, re-chew, re-swallow, or spit up food.
  • Avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder — Avoidant disorder affects people who don’t consume the recommended daily intake of nutrients because they worry about choking, gaining weight, or they just don’t like particular textures, tastes, or scents.

Causes of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are complicated mental health issues that medical professionals are still trying to comprehend. It is evident that they are about much more than outward appearance, and there is still a spirited discussion among scientists regarding the underlying causes of these debilitating conditions. Professionals generally agree that social, behavioral, emotional, interpersonal, and biological elements are involved.

Despite the differences of opinion, some common factors do exist among individuals with eating disorders. They include:

  • Low self-esteem — Unrealistic expectations and body fantasies that the fashion industry frequently maintains are among the cultural and social elements that contribute to low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is also a result of society’s rigid standards of beauty, which elevate both men and women with particular body types and proportions.
  • Lack of control and problems expressing feelings — When faced with overwhelming stresses in life, a person may respond by restricting their food intake or purging. Reduced emotional safety and the inability to be vulnerable in communication make the issue worse.
  • Depression and anxiety — Clinical depression affects a large portion of those who have eating disorders. These mental health issues are primarily brought on by stress, loneliness, prejudice, bullying in the past because of weight, and rage, to name a few of their underlying causes. Abuse of all kinds—sexual, physical, and emotional—is more frequent.
  • Genetics — Future generations may be more susceptible to developing an eating issue if there is a family history of the disorders.

Eating Disorder Signs and Symptoms

Identifying an eating disorder isn’t always easy because the signs and symptoms aren’t always clear until health problems grow serious. They include:

  • Making justifications for not eating while simultaneously avoiding meals
  • Adopting a rigid vegetarian or vegan diet
  • Focusing excessively on healthy eating
  • Preparing separate meals because what everyone else is eating isn’t healthy enough
  • Constant obsession and remarks about being overweight or having an excessive desire to lose weight, especially when it is unwarranted. Expressions of distaste or shame at needing to eat may accompany this
  • Obsessively looking in the mirror to identify perceived problems or an unrealistic focus on perfection
  • An unhealthy obsession with exercise
  • Using drugs, supplements, laxatives, or other products whose side effects include weight loss
  • Symptoms of purging. This can include calloused knuckles and weakened tooth enamel, and decay
  • Leaving in the middle of mealtime to go to the bathroom
  • Eating in secret
  • Withdrawal from normal activities

The Effects of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can have a serious effect on the brain and body. The most common eating disorder effects include:

  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Changes in menstruation
  • Fine hair growth on the body or face
  • Listless or dull behavior and difficulty concentrating
  • Irregular moods
  • Dizziness, shortness of breath, and chest pain
  • Swollen salivary glands, sore throat, tooth decay, and gum disease
  • Low energy and body temperature
  • Swollen stomach or gastric rupture
  • Frequent constipation or irregular elimination
  • Dehydration and kidney complications

Intervention and Prevention

While there are no surefire ways to prevent someone you care about from having an eating disorder, there are several practices you may adopt to lower the likelihood that this will happen. They include:

  • Eating meals together — When you have meals together, you may model good eating behaviors for others and encourage them to follow a balanced diet that includes wholesome foods and manageable serving sizes.
  • Limiting diet talk — Avoid discussing fad diets and especially pills, especially around children and teenagers.
  • Encouraging self-esteem — Embrace positive body views and refrain from critiquing your own appearance. Respecting your own and others’ appearances will help you gain acceptance and assurance.
  • Schedule a visit to the doctor — Medical professionals are informed and educated in the physical signs that can indicate eating disorders and would be well-placed to indicate when there might be cause for concern.

You can plan an intervention if someone you care about has already acquired an eating issue. An eating issue is easier to treat the sooner you get involved. An effective strategy for assisting someone with an eating disorder is intervention. For the most successful intervention possible, you should:

  • Choose the right participants — Choose up to five relatives or friends of your loved one. Select a leader or work with a trained interventionist. Choose a convenient time for the meeting that works for everyone in advance.
  • Identify problem behaviors and incidents — Each participant should be ready to discuss one action or situation that raised their suspicions. Meet up ahead to prepare your contributions.
  • Use non-confrontational, threat-free language — It is important to keep in mind that accusatory, combative, or otherwise judgmental language and statements should be avoided at all costs.
  • Offer a solution — If the intervention is effective, your loved one will consent to seek immediate assistance. Prepare a counseling or residential treatment plan. Avoid insensitive, too-simple solutions such as “just start eating!”

Facts and Statistics About Eating Disorders

Death is one of the effects of eating disorders. Getting assistance is crucial. Only 10% of those who suffer from eating disorders ever obtain treatment, despite the fact that up to almost 30 million, people do. Consider these additional facts:

  • For adolescents, anorexia is the third most common chronic disorder.
  • Eating disorders have the highest rate of death compared to all other mental health disorders.
  • A quarter of college-aged females use bingeing and purging as weight-management techniques.
  • Over 80% of 10-year-old children are afraid of being fat.
  • Over 50% of teenage girls and almost 33% of teenage boys skip meals, fast, smoke, vomit, or take laxatives to control weight.
  • Approximately 26% of persons with eating disorders attempt suicide.
  • Over one-third of dieters progress to pathological dieting, and 25% of pathological dieters develop an eating disorder.
  • Women are more likely to develop an eating disorder, but men are less likely to get help.
  • The “ideal” body type as identified by modern advertising, is possessed naturally by 5% of American women.
  • Twenty percent of individuals with anorexia will die prematurely from eating disorder complications, including heart problems and suicide.

Exercise Addiction and Eating Disorders

Exercise addiction is one of the most prevalent comorbidities for eating disorders. Exercise addiction may be a concern if the person you care about exhibits eating disorder symptoms and appears to spend a lot of time exercising. People with an addiction to exercise:
Organize their lives around their exercise habits, rather than their exercise habits around their lives
Obsessively measure progress and, possibly, caloric intake
Exercise regardless of current health problems, weather conditions, or life events
Are overly preoccupied with appearance

Treatment for Eating Disorders

Treatment for eating disorders comes in a variety of forms. Asking for aid from someone else or stepping in to help a loved one who exhibits signs or symptoms is the first step. Accepting you have an eating disorder might be frightening, but the sooner you get treatment, the simpler it will likely be.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common eating disorder treatments. CBT addresses harmful routines and the unfavorable beliefs that lead to them. Clients of CBT learn to recognize the emotional triggers that result in harmful routines like calorie restriction, purging, and excessive exercise. They also develop healthier, more positive ways of handling such stressors. Better coping skills are taught as well as safe weight control and relaxation methods as part of CBT.

There are many other treatments for eating disorders, including:
Hospitalization or inpatient rehabilitation if the physical symptoms threaten life — Malnutrition is regarded as potentially fatal. There are other full-day therapy options where the patient goes home at night.
Psychotherapy and medication — In this, various frameworks, including individual, group, and even family-based treatment, may be used. Although medication won’t cure an eating issue, it can lessen the symptoms of anxiety or depression, which are the core underlying causes.
Nutrition education — It is crucial to comprehend how nutrition affects the body and why the body requires specific macros and nutrients to function. This may help to shift the perspective someone has around food and eating.

Get Help for an Eating Disorder

Complex diseases with both psychological and physical components; eating disorders are, fundamentally, forms of illness. In order to be successful, a treatment plan often combines psychotherapies that locate and treat the disorder’s underlying causes alongside nutrition instruction. The treatment will include extra therapies if there is a second mental health condition that has to be addressed, such as depression or anxiety. The likelihood of recovery is often quite good with the correct care and compassion from family and friends accompanying professional treatment.
Individuals with life-threatening symptoms such as heart arrhythmia should enroll in a treatment program immediately. Inpatient treatment allows the suffering individual time and space to focus exclusively on healing without any of the distractions of everyday life. A hospital setting can provide lifesaving interventions, but it may not offer the necessary follow-up care. Treatment programs that use a holistic approach, whether inpatient or outpatient, often do.
A person’s physical, psychological, and spiritual health and well-being are all addressed through holistic treatment. A comprehensive, holistic care program frequently consists of urgent care, behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, medication, nutrition, family therapy, life skills training, and safe exercise. After the aftercare period is over, your loved one can join one or more communities for ongoing eating disorder support and continue counseling on an outpatient basis.

Get Help with an Eating Disorder Today

It is never too early to get help if you have an eating disorder. The more damage an eating disorder does to the body and brain over time, the harder recovery becomes. As the brain develops accustomed to the behavior, recovering from an eating disorder becomes more challenging. There is assistance available, regardless of how long you or a loved one have struggled with an eating issue. At Addiction Experts, our medical professionals have all the experience needed to help you get started on your journey. Don’t hesitate to contact us today!

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Reviewed By:

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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