Eating Disorders

Illnesses that are characterized by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight or shape. The eating disturbances may include inadequate or excessive food intake which can ultimately damage an individual's well-being. There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Each condition involves extreme food and weight issues; however, each disorder has unique symptoms that separate it from the others.

People with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa tend to be perfectionists with low self-esteem and are extremely critical of themselves and their bodies.

Anorexia Nervosa

A person with anorexia will deny themselves food to the point of self-starvation as weight loss is an obsession. A person will deny hunger and refuse to eat, practice binge eating and purging behaviors or exercise to the point of exhaustion as an attempt to limit, eliminate or "burn" calories.

Bulimia Nervosa

Someone living with bulimia will feel out of control when binging on very large amounts of food during short periods of time, and then desperately try to get rid of the extra calories using forced vomiting, abusing laxatives or excessive exercise. The individual will repeat the cycle that controls many aspects of the person's life. This has a very negative effect emotionally and physically. Those living with bulimia are usually normal weight or even a bit overweight.

The individual with bulimia has emotional symptoms which include low self-esteem overly linked to body image, feelings of being out of control, feeling guilty or shameful about eating and will withdraw from friends and family.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Those with binge eating disorder have episodes of binge eating in which they consume extremely large quantities of food in a brief period and feel out of control during the binge. These individuals will try to get rid of the food by inducing vomiting or by using other unsafe practices such as fasting or laxative abuse. Binge eating is chronic and can lead to serious health complications such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases.

Diagnosis

If an eating disorder is believed to be an issue, a doctor will usually perform a physical examination, conduct an interview and order lab tests which will help form the diagnosis and check for related medical issues and complications. A mental health professional will conduct a psychological evaluation asking questions about eating habits, behaviors and beliefs. Types of questions asked may be about the patient's history of dieting, exercise, binging and purging.

Treatment

Eating disorders are managed using a variety of techniques and vary depending on the type of disorder. The treatments generally include:

  • Psychotherapy - talk or behavioral  therapy

  • Medicine - such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. Many people living with eating disorders often have a co-occurring illness like depression or anxiety. There are no medications available to treat eating disorders themselves, but many patients find that these medications help with underlying issues.

  • Nutritional counseling and weight restoration monitoring are crucial.