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What Is An Eating Disorder?

There are a variety of eating disorders, such as Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder, that are executed in a different fashion but still pose serious health risks to the individual who has been diagnosed with any of them.

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Understanding Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders are a complex psychiatric condition that cause unhealthy eating habits and progressively worsen physical health consequences that can potentially be fatal. The illness creates disturbances in food intake, body weight, and shape. It can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, or race, and should not be taken lightly. These disorders have severe consequences on a person’s health, productivity, and relationships.

More than 30 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with an eating disorder. The phenomenon tends to affect young women between the ages of 12 and 35 but can affect anyone. It is common for the condition to be co-occurring with other mental disorders like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The co-occurring disorders vary based on genetics and personal backgrounds. Due to this large variety of conditions there is no set list of symptoms for an eating disorder. Yet, there is a general list of risk factors that include:

  • Being close to someone with an eating disorder
  • A close relative with a mental health condition
  • History of constant dieting
  • Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes
  • Perfectionism
  • Dissatisfaction with one’s body image
  • History of an Anxiety Disorder
  • Behavioral inflexibility
  • Exposure to weight stigma
  • Teasing or bullying
  • Internalization of an ideal appearance
  • Acculturation or undergoing rapid Westernization
  • Loneliness
  • Historical trauma or intergenerational trauma
  • Hereditary history

Though a person may be genetically prone to developing an eating disorder, people with no prior family history are also at risk. As a result there are many forms of eating disorders.

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Types Of Eating Disorders

There are several different kinds of eating disorders. At the center of most eating disorders is control. Each disorder can vary by severity and symptoms but should all be taken very seriously.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa causes people to view themselves as overweight, even when they are not. People battling the condition restrict their food intake and weigh themselves obsessively. They may exercise and find creative ways (like abusing laxatives) for temporary weight loss.

Bulimia Nervosa (Bulimia)

People with Bulimia Nervosa (Bulimia) lack control of their eating behaviors. A person dealing with Bulimia will eat a large amount of food and then purge it shortly thereafter. The food is usually expelled by vomiting to avoid absorbing calories. Episodes can be frequent or recurring, but they always lack a sense of control. In an attempt to avoid gaining weight, many partake in excessive exercise, take laxatives, or fast.

Binge Eating Disorder

In Binge Eating Disorder, there is a lack of control over overeating habits. People eat even when not hungry or uncomfortably full. This lack of control causes a large consumption of food like in Bulimia Nervosa. After a binge, Binge Eaters do not attempt to purge or get rid of the excessive calories. People struggling with this disorder are usually overweight or obese.


Pica is an Eating Disorder where people ingest non-food items like chalk, paper, or hair. Individuals with Pica eat things considered non-edible. Pica can affect anyone but is common in children, pregnant women, and individuals with mental disabilities. These individuals run a high risk of developing internal injuries, infections, and poisoning.

Rumination Disorder

In Rumination Disorder, people habitually regurgitate food after eating. The action can be automatic and unintended. Individuals with Rumination Disorder are known to throw up and rechew their food. To prevent the behavior from occurring, many eat significantly less.

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

People with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder fail to eat the minimum daily nutrition requirement. They lack interest in food or avoid certain dishes because of color, texture, smell, or taste. Many may refrain from eating out of fear of choking or other consequences not linked to weight gain.

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Other Specified Feeding Or Eating Disorder (OSFED)

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) is a classification created as a ‘catch-all’ category. This class is for eating disorders that do not meet strict diagnostic criteria. The disorders can be severe and life-threatening, but treatable. OSFED symptoms are similar to widely recognized Eating Disorders.

Examples of Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED) include:

  • Bulimia Nervosa (of low frequency or limited duration)
  • Orthorexia
  • Binge Eating disorder (of low frequency or fixed time)
  • Atypical Anorexia Nervosa
  • Night Eating Syndrome
  • Purging Disorder

People in the grips of an eating disorder are prone to question their self-worth, identity, and life satisfaction. They may base their self-image on how well they stick to a self-imposed diet or appearance. The daily challenge to conform can be taxing emotionally, physically, and mentally. As a way of coping, they may resort to drugs for relief.

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Eating Disorders And Addiction

The use of illicit drugs is a popular method of self-treatment used for eating disorders. Cocaine, alcohol, and Hallucinogens are some of the more widely used “balms.” Though popular, these “salves” lead to more complications like drug addiction and other health consequences.

The development of a co-occurring eating and addiction disorder is dangerous. It can lead to malnutrition, medical risks, and potentially death. Fortunately, the disorders’ emotional, mental, and physical symptoms are treatable with proper medical care.

Eating Disorders Treatment

Due to the chronic and progressive nature of Eating Disorders, it is best to seek  treatment as early as possible. There is a high suicide risk associated with the disorder. Seeking care right away is a priority that can result in a complete recovery and save a person’s life. By opting for treatment during the early stages of an Eating Disorder, complications can be reversed or improved.

If an individual decides to reach out for help after time has passed, treatment is still possible. Treatment can vary based on location, type of disorder, and the unique needs of patients.

Common types of methods used for eating disorder treatment include:

  • Behavioral Therapy
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment
  • Individual Therapy
  • Group Therapy
  • Family psychotherapy
  • Sessions with a Dietician
  • Nutritional Counseling
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

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Get Help For An Eating Disorder

It is crucial for individuals recovering from an eating disorder to find a trusted licensed professional. By teaming up with a team of healthcare professionals, recovery is possible. If you or someone you know has an eating disorder or is exhibiting behaviors of concern, talk to a provider. Early intervention is key. The earlier an eating disorder is diagnosed and treated, the improved likelihood of successful recovery. Reach out for help as soon as possible. If you are ready to take the next step towards recovery, contact a treatment provider today.