Eating disorders are serious and often fatal illnesses that are associated with severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors and food related thoughts and emotions. Preoccupation with food, body weight, and shape may also signal an eating disorder. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
Factors that may be involved in developing an eating disorder include:
Eating disorders affect all types of people. However there are certain risk factors that put some people at greater risk for developing an eating disorder.
People with anorexia nervosa may see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight. People with anorexia nervosa typically weigh themselves repeatedly, severely restrict the amount of food they eat, often exercise excessively, and/or may force themselves to vomit or use laxatives to lose weight. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. While many people with this disorder die from complications associated with starvation, others die of suicide.
Other symptoms may develop over time, including:
People with bulimia nervosa have recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over these episodes. This binge-eating is followed by behavior that compensates for the overeating such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors. People with bulimia nervosa may be slightly underweight, normal weight, or overweight.
People with binge-eating disorder lose control over their eating. Unlike bulimia nervosa, periods of binge-eating are not followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting. As a result, people with binge-eating disorder often are overweight or obese. Binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the U.S.
Eating disorders (EDs) are actually complex medical and psychiatric illnesses that patients don’t choose and parents don’t cause. Several decades of genetic research show that biological factors play a significant role in who develops an eating disorder. EDs commonly co-occur with other mental health conditions like major depression, anxiety, social phobia, and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Although our current culture is highly obsessed with food and weight, and disordered patterns of eating are very common, clinical eating disorders are less so. A 2007 study asked 9,282 English-speaking Americans about a variety of mental health conditions, including eating disorders. The results, published in Biological Psychiatry, found that 0.9% of women and 0.3% of men had anorexia during their life, 1.5% of women and 0.5% of men had bulimia during their life, and 3.5% of women and 2.0% of men had binge eating disorder during their life. The consequences of eating disorders can be life-threatening, and many individuals find that stigma against mental illness (and eating disorders in particular) can obstruct a timely diagnosis and adequate treatment.
Treatment plans are tailored to individual needs and may include one or more of the following:
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