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Everything You Need to Know on Eating Disorder Treatment

Updated on October 20, 2015

What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are serious psychological conditions where sufferers fixate on food and/or weight loss to the point that the disorder can also result in serious—or even life-threatening—physical ailments. According to a 2011 study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 3 percent of adolescents in the US suffer from an eating disorder. Eating disorders can affect adults as well.

Types of Eating Disorders

The most common forms of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating. Some people may suffer from more than one eating disorder at a time. Symptoms can vary from case to case, depending on the severity of the disorder and the personality of the individual. Many people with eating disorders also suffer from other forms of mental illness, such as anxiety or depression.

In anorexia nervosa, a sufferer is so obsessed with food and losing weight that they risk starvation and subsequent health risks associated with malnutrition. In addition to refusing to eat, a patient with anorexia may also exercise excessively, hide their body under baggy clothes, show signs of a distorted self-image, stop menstruating or develop soft hair growth (lanugo) on their bodies.

A person suffering from bulimia nervosa has periods where they binge on food and then due to guilt or fear of weight gain subsequently purge the food via self-induced vomiting or laxatives. The patient is often average or slightly above normal weight ranges. Other symptoms of bulimia include distorted self-image, exercising excessively, frequent trips to the bathroom particularly surrounding meals, scrapes and bruises on the knuckles and hands, mouth sores, diuretic use and dehydration.

Binge eating is characterized by excessive eating, eating when they are no longer hungry that can extend to the point of bloating and pain. A person who suffers from binge eating may hide stashes of food, eat quickly, always eating alone and feeling guilty about the condition.

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There is no known exact cause of eating disorders. Scientists speculate that eating disorders could be related to genetics, social environment and mental health. In general, mental illness can cause or contribute to an eating disorder, particularly when it comes to self-image, compulsion and obsessive tendencies. Western culture projects the image of being thin is attractive. Peer pressure and role models can exacerbate this desire. Athletes may feel pushed to reach a desired weight or stay thin. Females tend to suffer from eating disorders more frequently in males. However, according to a 2011 study done in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, approximately 11 percent of binge-eaters are women and 7.5 percent are men. Psychology Today also indicates that men make up approximately 10 percent of anorexia and bulimia patients.

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Effects of Eating Disorders

The severity of the eating disorder will affect any associated health risks. According to Mayo Clinic, complications of eating disorders can include death, cardiac problems, organ failure, depression and suicidal ideation, amenorrhea (the absence of the menstrual period), bone loss and stunted growth, tooth decay, digestive problems, kidney problems and high or low blood pressure.

Treatment Options

The treatment of an eating disorder depends on the type and severity. In general, an eating disorder suffer often enters individual therapy to understand the eating disorder and any other underlying issues that may be associated. Cognitive behavior therapy is a common treatment as it focuses on thought and behavior distortions. Family therapy can also be helpful to educate family members and help them know how and when help may be needed. Often times a person with an eating disorder will not reach out for help and will not make healthy decisions for themselves.

Visiting a nutritionist can also be beneficial by teaching the person healthy eating habits and even planning meals. Nutrition goals may be made as well, such as achieving a healthy weight.

Medication may be prescribed to treat associated illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Medication could also help with controlling impulses and obsessions related to the eating disorder. Your doctor may prescribe antidepressants, anti-anxiety agents or even nutritional supplements until you regain health.

Hospitalization may be required in severe cases. If a patient is refusing to eat, has lost a significant amount of weight or is severely depressed, a psychiatric hospital stay may be indicated. Sometimes associated health risks need to be treated in a hospital as well, such as dehydration or organ damage.

Eating Disorders and Specialized Treatment


Eating disorders can have deadly consequences. Get professional help for yourself or family member right away.

Support Groups
Learn to eat healthy and in moderation.
Treat underlying symptoms and depression.
Talk to people who understand what you're going through.
You can eat well and maintain a healthy weight.
Control anxiety and other co-morbid conditions.
Lend an ear to fellow sufferers.

© 2015 stasis


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