Eating Disorders

When you become so preoccupied with food and weight issues that you find it harder and harder to focus on other aspects of your life, it may be an early sign of an eating disorder. Without treatment, eating disorders can take over a person’s life and lead to serious, potentially fatal medical complications. Eating disorders can affect people of any age or gender, but rates are higher among women. Symptoms commonly appear in adolescence and young adulthood. 

Symptoms

Eating disorders are a group of related conditions that cause serious emotional and physical problems. Each condition involves extreme food and weight issues; however, each has unique symptoms that separate it from the others.

See the different types here

 

Treatment

Each person’s treatment will depend on the type of eating disorder, but generally it will include psychotherapy along with medical monitoring and nutritional counseling. Family-based treatment is especially important for families with children and adolescents because it enlists the families’ help to better insure healthy eating patterns and increases awareness and support.

Many people receive treatment for an eating disorder without needing an intensive treatment setting. However, for some people, an inpatient or residential eating disorder treatment center or partial hospital setting is best when they begin treatment. Others may need hospitalization to treat serious problems caused by poor nutrition or for care if they are very underweight.

Support groups, nutrition counseling and medications are also helpful to some individuals.

Psychotherapy should be provided by a mental health professional with experience in treating eating disorders. Because of the complexity, therapy needs to address both the symptoms and a person’s psychological, interpersonal and cultural influences which contributed to the disorder.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often successfully used in the treatment of eating disorders because it helps people understand the relationship between their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. CBT that is developed for the treatment of bulimia is very effective at changing the binge-purge behaviors and eating attitudes.

Wellness and Nutrition Counseling involves professionals helping a patient return to a normal weight. Dietitians and other health care providers can help change old habits and beliefs about food, dieting and exercise with healthy nutrition and eating information and planning. Sometimes planning and monitoring responsibilities are shared with mental health professionals or family members.

Medicine, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. Many people living with an eating disorder often have a co-occurring illness like depression or anxiety, and while there is no medication available to treat eating disorders themselves, many patients find that these medicines help with underlying issues.

 

Types of

Eating Disorders

Anorexia Nervosa

People with anorexia will deny themselves food to the point of self-starvation as they obsesses about weight loss. With anorexia, a person will deny hunger and refuse to eat, practice binge eating and purging behaviors or exercise to the point of exhaustion as they attempts to limit, eliminate or “burn” calories.

The emotional symptoms of anorexia include irritability, social withdrawal, lack of mood or emotion, not able to understand the seriousness of the situation, fear of eating in public and obsessions with food and exercise. Often food rituals are developed or whole categories of food are eliminated from the person’s diet, out of fear of being “fat".

Anorexia can take a heavy physical toll. Very low food intake and inadequate nutrition causes a person to become very thin. The body is forced to slow down to conserve energy causing irregularities or loss of menstruation, constipation and abdominal pain, irregular heart rhythms, low blood pressure, dehydration and trouble sleeping. Some people with anorexia might also use binge eating and purge behaviors, while others only restrict eating.

Bulimia Nervosa 

People living with bulimia will feel out of control when binging on very large amounts of food during short periods of time, and then desperately try to rid themselves of the extra calories using forced vomiting, abusing laxatives or excessive exercise. This becomes a repeating cycle that controls many aspects of the person’s life and has a very negative effect both emotionally and physically. People living with bulimia are usually normal weight or even a bit overweight.

 

The emotional symptoms of bulimia include low self-esteem overly linked to body image, feelings of being out of control, feeling guilty or shameful about eating and withdrawal from friends and family.

 

Like anorexia, bulimia will inflict physical damage. The binging and purging can severely harm the parts of the body involved in eating and digesting food, teeth are damaged by frequent vomiting, and acid reflux is common. Excessive purging can cause dehydration that effect the body’s electrolytes and leads to cardiac arrhythmias, heart failure and even death.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

A person with BED losses control over their eating and eats a very large amount of food in a short period of time. They may also eat large amounts of food even when he isn't hungry or after he is uncomfortably full. This causes them to feel embarrassed, disgusted, depressed or guilty about their behavior. A person with BED, after an episode of binge eating, does not attempt to purge or exercise excessively like someone living with anorexia or bulimia would. A person with binge eating disorder may be normal weight, overweight or obese.

 

Co-Occurring

Mental Illness

A co-occurring disorder refers to when one person has two or more mental health disorders or medical illnesses. These co-occurring disorders may overlap and begin at the same time, or one may appear before or after the other.

People with eating disorders often have additional illnesses:

Depression
Anxiety disorders
Borderline personality disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Substance use disorders/ Dual Diagnosis

 

Treating these illnesses can help make treating an eating disorder easier. Some of the symptoms of eating disorders may be caused by another illness.

 

Medication

Guide

Medicine, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. Many people living with an eating disorder often have a co-occurring illness like depression or anxiety, and while there is no medication available to treat eating disorders themselves, many patients find that these medicines help with underlying issues.

 
 

Sleep, Diet and Exercise for Better Mental Health

 

Additional

Resources

Support Programs

Blogs

Videos

Books

Articles

 

Websites

Podcasts

Handouts

  • Information Sheets & Worksheets from The Centre for Clinical Interventions

Apps

  • MindDoc - Monitoring and self-management app for promoting emotional well-being and coping

  • Headspace - Guided meditations, animations, articles, and videos