An eating disorder is a mental illness characterized by disruptions and unsafe eating behaviors.
People suffering from eating disorders have distorted and unhealthy obsessions with their appearance and weight. Long-term sufferers are at a high risk for severe health problems, which may require hospitalization or medical assistance.
According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, people suffering from anorexia have the highest fatality rate out of any mental illness.
Types of Eating Disorders
The two most well known eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
According to official criteria in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), anorexia nervosa is when a person has an irrational fear of weight gain or becoming fat, even though they may already be at an unhealthy weight.
Anorexia may involve obsessive and prolonged starvation, binge eating, or purging. It may cause serious psychological and physical effects, which can be difficult to repair without help.
The disorder becomes life threatening when the person will not gain weight even though they know their health depends on it.
When a person suffers from anorexia their thinking becomes dangerously altered. They incorrectly view their physical appearance and body.
Their distorted thinking causes them to see themselves as heavy or overweight, when the opposite is true. They are often in denial over the severity of their low weight and poor health.
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by certain behaviors.
For instance, people suffering from bulimia will eat excessively large portions of food within a quick time frame. It is also defined by the inability to control food consumption.
People with bulimia feel like they cannot stop eating during these episodes.
Bulimia is also defined by the use of unsafe practices to prevent weight gain.
This can mean purging through a variety of methods like vomiting, diuretic use, fasting, exercise addiction, and more. When the quest to stop weight gain becomes obsessive, many will go to any length necessary, risking their health and safety.
Eating Disorder Variants
There are many variants within the realm of eating disorders.
Many people suffer from a combination of anorexia and bulimia. However, there are also non-specific eating disorders.
For instance, people may experience a dramatic weight loss due to their eating disorder, but may still be a healthy weight. Other times, sufferers may exhibit unhealthy behaviors (example: chewing and spitting out food), but they do not engage in unsafe purging of any kind.
There are also various forms of disorders connected to binge eating or orthorexia (though it is not official recognized in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders).
Eating Disorders in Adulthood
Eating disorders are commonly thought to be a disease affecting young adolescents.
But eating disorders can affect anyone, including adult men and women. Statistics show that roughly twenty million women and ten million men will suffer from some form of an eating disorder at some point in their lives.
Young adult females account for the highest number of eating disorders in adulthood. Many adult women who have an active eating disorder have carried it with them from adolescence.
Usually, they received inadequate treatment, falsified their recovery, or relapsed. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders, only half of youths with eating disorders report that they recovered.
However, sometimes people will develop an eating disorder for the first time as adults.
The reasons for developing an eating disorder are numerous.
It can be a response to stressful triggers or a traumatic event. Eating disorders are an illness, and it has many genetic, biological, environmental, and cultural components.
How Do Eating Disorders Develop?
People may be predisposed to eating disorder illness due to genetics.
Studies show that eating disorders run in families. Genetic components and observed behaviors of living with someone with an eating disorder may contribute strongly to eating disorder occurrence. Additionally, there are high rates of eating disorders among identical twins.
The American Psychological Association reports that there are chromosome links to anorexia, bulimia, and other non-specified eating disorders.
Findings “support data from twin and family studies suggesting that biology does indeed account, at least in part, for the disorder.”
Chemical imbalances may also be a cause of eating disorders in adults. People may have unhealthy levels of chemicals that control appetite, stability, moods, and stress management.
Your overall mental health is a huge contributing factor as well, and the following mental health issues have been linked to eating disorders as co-occurring problems.
- Panic disorders
- and more
Learn more about co-occurring treatment options.
Consequently, avoidance, impulsiveness, repression, and an inability to manage emotions may exacerbate disorder symptoms.
Another huge component of eating disorder development are environmental factors, especially with the media being a powerful force. Unrealistic standards of beauty are the norm, which encourages one specific type of body. An overemphasis on thinness over health, in addition to never-ending diet culture is pervasive in today’s landscape.
These powerful and consistent messages affect both men and women.
Treatment for Eating Disorders
Treatment programs for eating disorders may involve medical assistance, individualized and group therapy, in-depth nutrition consultations, twelve-step meetings, and family support sessions.
Intensive outpatient programs offer specialized care, while providing the flexibility to attend work or school.
Continuing care is especially important due to the re-occurrence of eating disorders in adults.
Having regular sessions with therapists and nutritionists even after treatment is over is a beneficial way to combat eating disorder relapse.
Eating disorder specialists and treatment centers are available nationwide. This is in growing response to the rise of them in youths and adults. Eating disorders are about more than problems with food, which is why it is one of the most difficult and deadly mental illnesses to treat.
Numerous centers are equipped and trained to provide the best care and support possible for those struggling.
Remember that recovery from an eating disorder is not linear; there will be setbacks along the way. But it is important that people suffering from an eating disorder seek help immediately.
Do not wait.
It is crucial to take the first step today.