Eating disorders are often an attempt to manage feelings and emotions that may otherwise seem over-whelming.

While eating disorders may begin with food or weight related preoccupations, their presence involves far more than issues about food. In fact, they are complex conditions related to any combination of emotional, social or family issues. Eating disorders are often an attempt to compensate for or manage feelings and emotions that may otherwise seem over-whelming.

Causes for Eating Disorders

Factors than can contribute to eating disorders include:

  • Low self image/poor self esteem
  • History of physical, sexual or emotional abuse
  • Depression or other emotional conditions
  • Feelings of loss of control
  • Family or relationship problems
  • Culturally reinforced norms valuing physical appearance or certain body sizes
  • History of being teased or ridiculed because of appearance

Types of Eating Disorders

There are three main types of eating disorders:

Bumimia Nervosa – People who have bulimia nervosa routinely “binge,” consuming large amounts of food in a very short period of timem and immediately “purge,” ridding their bodies of the just-eaten food by self-inducing vomiting, taking enemas, or abusing laxatives or other medications. Many people struggling with bulimia appear to be an average weight or size.

Signs of bulimia nervosa include:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating accompanied by a sense of loss of control over eating
  • The person excessively acts to prevent weight gain
  • Preoccupation with body shape and weight
  • There are many serious and life threatening implications of bulimia nervosa, including esophagus or gastric inflammation or rupture and dehydration and electrolyte imbalances that can result in heart failure and death, and irreversible heart, kidney, and dental damage.

Many people struggling with bulimia nervosa also struggle with conditions such as depression, addiction and dangerous impulsive or self-destructive behaviors.

Binge – This involves recurring and out-of-control episodes of consuming large amounts of food in short time periods generally long after hunger has subsided and well beyond being uncomfortably full. Binge eating may also involving feelings of loss of control or eating in secret.

Consequences of binge-eating include obesity, gallbladder disease, diabetes and much more. Those struggling with binge-eating disorder also are at a heightened risk of substance-related disorders and other mental health conditions.

Anorexia Nervosa – Anorexia nervosa is both a dangerous and life-threatening eating disorder involving self starvation.

Symptoms include:

  • Refusal to maintain body weight at or above what is minimally normal weight
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat
  • Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation or denies the seriousness of low body weight
  • Loss of menstrual periods

Anorexia nervosa involves extreme weight loss of 15 percent or more below the person’s “ideal” weight. However, despite physical emaciation, the person has a distorted body image and will convince themselves that they are overweight.

There are many serious and life threatening risks associated with anorexia nervosa, including heart and kidney failure, muscle loss and death.

Studies are increasingly linking eating disorders with substance abuse conditions. Specifically, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa have been pinpointed as those most commonly linked and demonstrate a greater likelihood than the general population to also be affected by substance abuse or addiction.
Effective Treatment for Eating Disorders

The most effective treatments for eating disorders involve psychotherapy or counseling, individualized medical and nutritional attention, and assessment and treatment for any co-occurring substance addiction or abuse.

Early identification and treatment of eating disorders can reduce the likelihood of a chronic and potentially life-threatening condition.