Understanding Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders Signs, Symptoms, Types and Treatment

Eating Disorders are a common reason people reach out to BetterHelp for services. The National Eating Disorder Foundation estimates that 10 million American women struggle with eating disorders, plus an additional 1 million males. They believe that 10-15% of Americans are suffering from some form of eating disorder. This is a guide to tell you about some of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders, the various types of eating disorders, and some treatment options you may find useful. It will also tell you who is likely to suffer from eating disorders, medical implications of eating disorders, and answer some frequently asked questions.

What are Eating Disorders?

According to the Mayo Clinic, "eating disorders are serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact your health, your emotions and your ability to function in important areas of life. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder." Individuals suffering from eating disorders struggle with body image issues, which we call body dysmorphia. The individual is fixated on their weight, and is unable to see themselves in a realistic way, or eat in a balanced way.

Who Suffers from Eating Disorders?

  • Females (females suffer at a rate of 8:1 over males)
  • People who feel like their life is out of control
  • Victims of abuse (verbal, physical, sexual)
  • Overachievers
  • Teens and adults who were told they were fat as children
  • Someone suffering the sudden loss of a loved one
  • Individuals with anxiety or depression
  • Someone from a family that has pressures to be thin
  • Someone who is the genetic relative of someone with an eating disorder
  • Someone with low self esteem
  • Someone dealing with major life changes, such as going away to college
  • Someone facing issues with the Hypothalamus, as this controls hunger feelings

What you should know:

Eating Disorders can literally be deadly to the person who is suffering from them. The individual can have a rupture in the esophagus when they purge. They can lose so much weight, that their system gives out. They can have a heart attack. People with these disorders are prone to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Eating disorders are quite serious, and require treatment as early as possible. If you suspect that you have, or that someone you love has an eating disorder, act on it.

Medical Implications of Eating Disoders

  • Lack of adequate nutrition
  • Harm to the heart
  • Issues with the digestive system
  • Weakened bones
  • Enamel gone from the teeth and mouth
  • Lack of energy and feelings of weakness
  • Anemia
  • Heart issues
  • Kidney stones
  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Type II diabetes (binge and emotional eating)
  • Bone loss
  • Sleep disruption

Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia

This is an eating disorder in which the individual withholds food from him or herself, eats far less than they need to sustain themselves, has a distorted body image they see in the mirror, and often engages in excessive exercise.

Bulimia

This is an eating disorder where the individual typically binges on food, and then purges up what they have eaten. These individuals will also use medications such as ex-lax, enemas and water pills, and/or go for walks or runs of excessive distance.

Binge Eating

This is uncontrollable over-eating. The individual can consume up to 5,000 calories in one sitting. They feel as if they are not able to stop on their own, and are not capable of controlling the eating. The episodes are frequent, and they feel guilt during and after the binge.

Emotional Eating

This is the most common eating disorder. It is when we try and use food to make us feel better about any given situation. People do it when they are stressed, when they are bored, when they are depressed, or to try and fill a void.

Eating Disorders Symptoms and Signs

You may notice the following symptoms and signs in yourself or in others:

  • Stating that they are fat, and talking about losing weight frequently
  • Skipping meals, or having reasons that they cannot eat (i.e. I feel sick)
  • Tooth enamel loss due to purging
  • Exercising many more hours than what is considered appropriate
  • Marks on fingers, fingernails and knuckles from inducing vomiting
  • Finding hidden food or wrappers
  • Talking about depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Guilt and shame for eating
  • Using laxatives and water pills to promote weight loss
  • Taking part in online pro-anorexia or bulimia websites
  • Having a very restrictive diet, including refusing to eat what the family is having
  • Isolating
  • Withdrawal from activities they once enjoyed
  • Getting up during meals to use the bathroom

Eating Disorder Treatments

Journal the thoughts and feelings associated with disordered eating.

  • Write out the thoughts, feelings and actions associated with the eating disorder, and its behaviors.

Incorporate a healthy diet and exercise into your daily routine.

  • Work with a nutritionist to learn true healthy eating.
  • Learn what a moderate and healthy level of exercise is.
  • Do not weigh yourself!

Cut down on alcohol and drugs.

  • Alcohol causes disrupted sleep, and sleep is often a major issue with eating disorders
  • It is noted that 70-80% of people with eating disorders have substance abuse issues.

Learn "grounding" techniques from your therapist to address stressful and intrusive thoughts.

  • Grounding can be soothing, physical, or mental.

Stop isolating yourself and get together with friends and family.

  • Reconnect with friends and family, and do activities you once enjoyed.
  • Take part in local group activities to make new friends.
  • Attend support groups for other locals struggling with eating disorders.

Focus on what you do and do not have control over, remove what you don't.

  • Decide the things in your life you have control over.
  • Decide what you have no control over.
  • Make a list of small and manageable steps to work toward.
  • Remove the items you can't control.

If possible, avoid the situations, people, places, and things that stress you.

  • Identify triggers that cause you to participate in eating disordered behaviors.
  • Once you know what your triggers are, try and avoid the triggers, or learn techniques to minimize your stress levels.

Learn to express your feelings and let a trusted person know when you are triggered.

  • Learn techniques to be assertive and get your needs met.
  • Learn to tell a trusted person that you are thinking of acting BEFORE you act.
  • Learn the art of expressing yourself, and asking for help when you need it.

Learn coping tools and relaxation techniques for overcoming stress.

  • Learn deep breathing.
  • Learn progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Learn meditation and guided imagery.
  • Learn grounding to distract yourself when needed, especially at night.

Set boundaries with those who you need to, and learn to say "no."

  • Discuss what it would mean to set healthy boundaries and stick to them.
  • Learn when you are taking on too much, and that it is ok to say no.
  • Do not continue to do things that you do not want to do.

Make sure to schedule self-care into your day, no excuses!!!

  • Schedule 30-60 minutes each day just for you.
  • Start the day with coffee, a paper, a podcast, or something enjoyable.
  • Go for a jog or do yoga to calm yourself down.
  • If you decide it is essential, you will find the time.

Try complementary medicines.

  • Mediation
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Yoga
  • Relaxation techniques

Frequently Asked Questions About Eating Disorders

What are eating disorders?

According to the Mayo Clinic, "eating disorders are serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact your health, your emotions and your ability to function in important areas of life. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder." The individual struggles with body image issues, which we call body dysmorphia. The individual is fixated on their weight, and is unable to see themselves in a realistic way, or eat in a balanced way.

What are the different types of eating disorders?

Please see "Types of Eating Disorders" for complete descriptions

What are common signs and symptoms of eating disorders?

Please see "Eating Disorder Symptoms and Signs" for complete descriptions

Who is likely to suffer from eating disorders?

  • Females (females suffer at a rate of 8:1 over males)
  • People who feel like their life is out of control
  • Victims of abuse (verbal, physical, sexual)
  • Overachievers
  • Teens and adults who were told they were fat as children
  • Someone suffering the sudden loss of a loved one
  • Individuals with anxiety or depression
  • Someone from a family that has pressures to be thin
  • Someone who is the genetic relative of someone with an eating disorder
  • Someone with low self esteem
  • Someone dealing with major life changes, such as going away to college
  • Someone facing issues with the Hypothalamus, as this controls hunger feelings

How can you help someone with an eating disorder?

  • Urge the individual to seek treatment
  • Let them know that you are there for them if they need to talk
  • Reinforce healthy behaviors
  • Offer to go with to any appointments so the person feels supported
  • Avoid lectures, jokes, or insults
  • Be supportive
  • Model appropriate behavior

What are the most effective eating disorder treatments?

Fortunately, much progress has been made in the treatment of eating disorders. Although the exact treatment approach depends on the individual and which eating disorder they have, one or a combination of the following therapies may be used for most people suffering with eating disorders:

  • Medication:Certain antidepressant drugs and anti-anxiety medications are used to treat the depression and anxiety associated with eating disorders. The anti-depressants can help with the depressive, hopeless, and suicidal thoughts. The anti-anxiety medication can help with the impulsivity, and to slow down their thoughts. Each individual should discuss with his or her doctor whether medications are recommended for his or her particular symptoms, and if so, which ones would be most suitable.
  • Psychotherapy:Psychotherapy (a type of counseling) addresses the emotional reasons the individual is struggling with their eating. This may include discussing low self-esteem, distorted body image, obsessions about their body, and hopeless thoughts. It is a process in which trained mental health professionals help people by talking through strategies for understanding and dealing with their disorder.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: People suffering from eating disorders often participate in this type of psychotherapy in which the person learns to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that lead to anxious and depressed feelings, which in turn lead to disordered eating. Therapy also aims to identify possibly triggers, and learn to be able to tolerate their feelings and thoughts.
  • Nutritional Education and weight management:The individual will typically meet with a dietician who teaches and educates them about true healthy eating. They will likely be monitored during and after meals for a long time period, until things have stabilized, and trust has been built.

How common are eating disorders?

National Eating Disorder Foundation estimates that 10 million American women struggle with eating disorders, plus an additional 1 million males. They believe that 10-15% of Americans are suffering from some form of eating disorder.


Previous Article

Signs Of Eating Disorders — And How An Eating Disorder Counselor Can Help

Next Article

Binge Eating Disorder: What Causes It And How To Stop Eating Too Much
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Counselor Today
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.