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Women Eating Disorders and Treatment

Updated on December 8, 2015

1. Female Athlete Triad

Female athletes who participate in sports and activities valuing thinness are at increased risk for developing the female athlete triad. The definition of the triad includes disordered eating (a spectrum of abnormal patterns of eating, including bingeing; purging; food restriction; prolonged fasting; and the use of diet pills, diuretics, or laxatives), menstrual disorders, and low BMD. Half of all athletes with amenorrhea have bone density at least 1.0 standard deviation below the mean.

The bone density is decreased even in those areas subjected to stress during exercise. The diagnosis is made when the individual meets the three criteria of the triad.

Clinical Findings

A : Symptoms and Signs

Individuals with the female athlete triad display some pat-tern of disordered eating and have some menstrual irregularities. Many women have amenorrhea but others have irregular menses. Typically, the patient has concerns about weight and body image. A history of stress fractures should also raise the clinician's concern.

B. Lab Findings

Depending on the severity of the symptoms and whether or not the patient is bingeing and purging, the laboratory abnormalities can be similar to those seen in anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. BMD, if measured, is decreased.


Little evidence is currently available about treatment of the female athlete triad. Strategies such as counseling, cognitive behavior therapy, and possibly exercise restriction may be helpful. A multidisciplinary approach, including consultation with a nutritionist and communication with the coach and trainers, may enable common goal setting. The desire to participate in sports and the lure of a performance enhancing diet may motivate some patients to pursue treatment.

2. Disordered Eating in Diabetics

Eating disturbances have been estimated to be present in up to one-third of young women with diabetes. Eating disorders are more common in adolescents with diabetes than in their non-diabetic peers. Mortality is particularly high in individuals with both diabetes and eating disorders. For diabetes, the dietary regimen emphasizes intense meal timing and consistency.

In addition, the hunger associated with hypoglycemia encourages binge eating. Diabetics with disordered eating have been shown to have an increased risk of retinopathy. Given the emphasis that young women often place on body weight, maintaining optimal diabetes control is a particular challenge.

The diagnosis is typically made in a diabetic who has worsening diabetic control, when other causes of worsening control have been ruled out.

Clinical Findings

A. Symptoms and Signs

Diabetics may report polydipsia, polyuria, or weight loss. In addition, upon questioning, they may report disturbed eating patterns. Other symptoms associated with eating disorders, such as disturbance of body image and menstrual irregularities, may also be present.

B. Lab Findings

The main laboratory finding will be a trend of increasing levels of hemoglobin A.


There is currently no evidence to support any particular strategies for the treatment of disordered eating in diabetic patients. Proposed strategies for at risk diabetic patients indude nutritional counseling to promote healthy eating instead of dietary restraint, regular (instead of fixed) meal and snack times, less intensive insulin therapy to reduce weight gain, and family counseling to improve communication.

No studies have evaluated the optimal treatment of dia-betic patients with established eating disorders. Presumably, strategies that are effective for patients without diabetes, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and medications, will be effective. In addition, diabetic management strategies that do not require the patient to constantly think about food may be beneficial.

3. Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is more common than either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, but it is currently not recognized as a psychiatric diagnosis. Currently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV) has criteria that are considered research criteria. Individuals who meet these criteria are defined as having eating disorder, not otherwise specified.

Binge eating disorder is much more common in women and is associated with obesity, although not all individuals with binge eating disorder are obese. Obesity-related complications are likely to occur, and the disorder may be more common in weight cycling patients.

Clinical Findings

Findings The patient may present with weight gain or may describe disordered eating patterns and binge eating episodes. There are no specific laboratory findings for binge eating disorder.


Treatment goals focus on decreasing the patient's binge eating episodes and may include weight loss and treatment of other psychiatric comorbidities. As in bulimia nervosa, cognitive behavioral therapy is the mainstay of treatment. Interpersonal therapy has also been shown to be effective. Pharmacotherapy with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors is also helpful, but does not appear to be better than cognitive behavioral therapy.


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    • drzafiq profile image

      Dr Zafar Iqbal 2 years ago

      Eat for living not live for eating.