Helpful Information About Eating Disorders
Understanding Eating Disorders
An eating disorder is an unhealthy obsession with food and weight. People with eating disorders eat – or avoid eating – in extreme ways. At least 8 million people in the U.S. are living with an eating disorder. The overwhelming majority – about 90% – are female.
These are the 3 main types of eating disorders:
- Anorexia nervosa. People with anorexia severely restrict calories to the point of starvation. They are obsessed with being thin and have an unhealthy and distorted body image. They may refuse to eat at all or only eat tiny amounts of food that has few calories. Anorexics are extremely thin, yet constantly think of themselves as overweight.
- Bulimia nervosa. Bulimics binge on huge quantities of food, then force themselves to vomit. They may also exercise compulsively and take laxatives to help rid their body of the calories they’ve eaten. Bulimics continue this cycle of binging and purging and may also excessively restrict calories in between binges. Bulimics aren’t necessarily extremely thin and may often seem to be of normal weight.
- Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). Some people are not overly concerned with their weight or body image, but nonetheless refuse to consume enough calories to stay healthy. These are not simply picky eaters; their restrictive eating can lead to serious medical consequences in ways that are very similar to anorexia and bulimia.
- Binge-eating disorder. This is also known as compulsive overeating. Binge eaters consume excessive amounts of food without purging. They often eat uncontrollably despite feeling full. Binge eaters may feel guilty or ashamed after a binge and go on an extreme diet as a result. Binge eaters may be of normal weight, overweight, or obese. Although anorexia and bulimia aren’t common in men, binge eating disorder affects about as many males as it does females. At this time, the CHOC Eating Disorders Program does not treat patients with binge-eating disorder; please talk to your child’s pediatrician about a referral to a psychologist, psychiatrist or weight management program.
Other eating disorders don’t quite fit into any of the above categories and are usually classified as “eating disorders not otherwise specified.”
Managing eating disorders
Eating disorders can be treated successfully, but the answer isn’t as simple as changing eating habits because eating disorders are about much more than food. Therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, is a crucial part of treating and managing eating disorders. Eating the right amount of food and managing an appropriate level of physical activity are also key elements of a treatment plan. Some people may need medications, such as antidepressants, to manage other conditions affecting their eating disorder.
No one-size-fits-all treatment is available for eating disorders. Rather, treatment is specifically tailored to each individual.
Preventing eating disorders
Experts don’t truly understand what causes eating disorders. There are a variety of factors that contribute to the development of eating disorders, including personality traits, stress and societal expectations. Fortunately, you can take steps to help prevent eating disorders, both before the first symptoms appear or in the early stages.
Programs that promote healthy eating habits and a healthy lifestyle are one prevention method. A better understanding of how society’s unrealistic expectations influence body image are can also promote a healthier body image and prevent eating disorders.