Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.
An eating disorder is a mental health condition in which the person affected experiences significant disruptions in their eating behaviors as well as in their related thoughts and emotions. People who struggle with eating disorders often become preoccupied with food and their body weight.
Additionally, eating disorders often occur together with other mental health issues like depression, anxiety, panic disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorders. Without treatment, eating disorders can cause a number of health-related problems including cardiovascular issues, gastrointestinal issues, and malnutrition. But with proper treatment, people affected by eating disorders can resume suitable eating habits and can improve their mental health.
Determining if you have an eating disorder begins with examining your thoughts and behaviors surrounding food, body image and body weight. Although there is an extensive list of warning signs, not everyone will display every symptom. If you suspect you have an eating disorder, it’s important to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. The chance for recovery increases the sooner an eating disorder is addressed.
Eating disorders are complex disorders that stem from a variety of factors including genetics, cultural ideals, environmental, psychological, and biological influences. These risk factors may also include mental health conditions like anxiety and depression along with body image issues.
To help a loved one with an eating disorder, be supportive of their recovery efforts without trying to fix, control, or counsel them. Instead, be patient and encouraging. Empower them to tackle their disordered eating and talk to a counselor or therapist.
There is some evidence that eating disorders are heritable. In fact, in one study of twins, researchers discovered that 40% to 60% of the risk for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder arises from genetic influences. However, the development of an eating disorder is a complex process impacted by a variety of factors and not just about genetic influences.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by not eating enough and impacts all areas of a person’s life. A person affected by anorexia nervosa, may have a low body weight and a distorted body image. They also may have an intense fear of gaining weight and often use extreme measures to control their weight and shape.
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating followed by purging or another method designed to prevent weight gain such as the use of laxatives, excessive exercises, and fasting. Due to guilt and shame associated with bulimia nervosa, people affected by this disorder will go to great lengths to hide their behaviors.
Binge eating is an eating disorder characterized by consuming large amounts of food even when the person isn’t hungry. Typically, the person feels out of control as well as a sense of shame and guilt over their binge eating. Unlike people with bulimia nervosa, they do not try to purge the food after it is consumed.
Rumination disorder is an eating disorder that involves bringing previously chewed or previously swallowed food back up in order to spit it out or re-swallow it. These behaviors are often done in secret because of a fear of what people will think.
ARFID is an eating disorder in which the person affected has a strong preference for a narrow range of foods and may refuse to eat any food that is outside of these parameters. Unlike other eating disorders, people with ARFID do not worry about weight gain or body composition.
During a psychological evaluation, a psychologist or therapist will use a variety of tests and assessments to measure and observe a person’s thoughts and behaviors. At the completion of a psychological evaluation, the psychologist will make a diagnosis and recommend treatment options.
Sometimes referred to as the Maudsley Method, family-based therapy (FBT) is the leading treatment option for treating adolescents with eating disorders. FBT involves the whole family and primarily takes place in outpatient settings. It is the fastest and most effective treatment for children, adolescents, and young adults.
CBT is a type of treatment that focuses on helping a person learn how to identify destructive behaviors and thought processes. Through CBT, a person’s thoughts and behaviors are challenged and replaced with more realistic thoughts and behaviors.
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. How to help a loved one.