Eating disorders are some of the most misunderstood and dismissed disorders. Many people think that eating disorders are not serious issues and that a person with one of these disorders will just “grow out of it.”
However, eating disorders are serious conditions that often require psychiatric or medical help to treat. They are usually about more than food, involving complex relationships with body image and societal expectations.
This article serves as an introduction to eating disorders and includes information about the most common types as well as treatment options. After reading this article, you can find more in-depth information about eating disorders as well as how to support someone with these disorders here.
What Are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders happen when someone develops a persistent eating habit that negatively affects their health and life. These disorders often come about from the obsession with weight, body shape, or food. They result in dangerous eating behaviors that can be life-threatening.
Though these disorders may be primarily affected by societal expectations about one’s weight or body shape, there are many other factors at work. For example, researchers believe that genetics and certain personality traits (such as perfectionism or neuroticism) make someone more likely to develop an eating disorder.
When people think about eating disorders, they imagine a young teenage girl who is starving herself to lose weight. Though eating disorders are most common in teenagers and young adults, the truth is that anyone at any age or of any gender can develop an eating disorder.
Furthermore, though starving oneself is a type of eating disorder, these disorders manifest in other ways. Read on to learn more about the common types of eating disorders.
Common Types Of Eating Disorders
Anorexia (also known as anorexia nervosa) is one of the most well-known eating disorders. A person with this disorder will severely reduce their caloric intake because they believe they are overweight and want to quickly lose weight.
However, the person often doesn’t see their weight accurately. It is very common for a person with anorexia to be severely underweight but still believe that they are overweight or obese.
Though anorexia is usually associated with starvation and severely limiting caloric intake, binging and purging are also common forms of this eating disorder.
Bulimia (or bulimia nervosa) develops when a person has a pattern of eating an enormous amount of food until they become painfully full. The person often struggles to control how much they are eating. After eating, the person will purge themselves to avoid caloric intake and potential weight gain.
Though bulimia may seem similar to the purging forms of anorexia, a person with bulimia often remains a healthy weight, while a person with anorexia is often underweight.
3. Binge Eating Disorder
Though binge eating disorder is less well-known than the previously mentioned disorders, it is believed to be the most common eating disorder, particularly in the United States.
Binge eating disorder is very similar to bulimia in that the person will binge food until they are painfully full. They may not have much control over their eating behaviors. However, there is no purging in this disorder, so they are often overweight or obese.
Individuals with a binge eating disorder often feel deep shame for their binges and often eat in secret or when no one is around.
Pica is the most unusual eating disorder on this list as it does not include normal food. People with pica develop an obsession with eating non-food items, such as soap, pebbles, laundry detergent, dirt, or ice.
As you can imagine, the risks for this eating disorder include gastrointestinal issues, infections, nutritional deficiencies, and poisoning. Depending on the substance consumed, pica can be fatal.
How To Treat Eating Disorders
Successful treatment of eating disorders involves family and friend support and supervision as well as the involvement of a doctor or therapist.
Therapy will help the person with thoughts, beliefs, or behaviors that are contributing to the eating disorder. Various forms of talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, can assist with this. If the eating disorder is linked to another mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, a psychiatrist may prescribe medication to help with that condition.
It may also be a good idea to involve a doctor or dietician to help the person develop a healthy diet that will also assist them in achieving a healthy body weight and shape.
In severe cases, the person may need to be hospitalized if they have lost weight too quickly or have developed severe physical health problems from their eating disorder.
However, people with eating disorders rarely seek treatment or believe they have a problem. This is what makes treatment so difficult. If you believe your loved one may be developing an eating disorder, discuss the issue with a medical professional for guidance on how to help and support them. You can also call the National Eating Disorder Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 for help, guidance, and more resources.