Skip to Main Content

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are behavioral conditions characterized by severe and persistent disturbance in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions. They can be very serious conditions affecting physical, psychological and social function. Types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, other specified feeding and eating disorder, pica and rumination disorder.

(American Psychiatric Association)

Symptoms vary, depending on the type of eating disorder. Anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder are the most common eating disorders. People with eating disorders can have all different body types and sizes.

Anorexia Nervosa

  • Low body weight – may have dramatic weight loss
  • Feels as though he or she is overweight, even when that is clearly not the case
  • Denial of hunger
  • Preoccupation with body weight and shape (frequent weighing and comments regarding weight and shape)
  • Obsession with food and its nutrients (calories, fat, carbohydrates, etc.)
  • Food rituals (cutting into very small pieces, excessive chewing, etc.)
  • Excessive exercise and dieting
  • Anxiety regarding weight, meal time, and social activities or gatherings
  • Frequent fatigue and overall weakness
  • Dry, thinning, or loss of hair
  • Dry skin and brittle nails
  • Frequently cold, wearing multiple layers to hide body or to stay warm
  • Downy hair covering body, called lanugo
  • Amenorrhea (loss of menstruation in women)

Bulimia Nervosa

  • Frequent fluctuations in body weight
  • Frequent episodes of bingeing (consuming large amounts of food) followed by purging (compensatory behaviors including self-induced vomiting, misuse of diuretics, laxatives, or enemas)
  • Hiding food to eat in private
  • Feeling of loss of control during binge episodes
  • Feelings of shame and guilt when eating
  • Preoccupied with body weight and shape
  • Preoccupied with exercise and dieting
  • Signs of purging include frequent trips to bathroom (especially after meals), swollen cheeks, cuts or scabs on knuckles and back of hands, discolored teeth and tooth decay
  • Withdrawal from social activities and gatherings

Binge Eating Disorder

  • Frequent episodes of bingeing (consuming large amounts of food)
  • Feeling of loss of control during binge episodes
  • Hiding food to eat in private
  • Feelings of shame and guilt when eating
  • Eating when not physically hungry
  • Eating past the point of discomfort
  • Eating alone

(The Eating Disorder Foundation)

A mix of genetics, environment and social factors play a role in the development of eating disorders. Some people with eating disorders may use extreme measures to limit food intake or food groups when they feel like other aspects of their lives are hard to manage. An obsession with food becomes an unhealthy way of coping with painful emotions or feelings. Thus, eating disorders are more about finding healthy way to manage your emotions than about food.

(Cleveland Clinic)

Treatments for eating disorders vary depending on the type and your specific needs. Even if you don’t have a diagnosed eating disorder, an expert can help you address and manage food-related issues. Treatments include:

  • Psychotherapy: A mental health professional can determine the best psychotherapy for your situation. Many people with eating disorders improve with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This form of therapy helps you understand and change distorted thinking patterns that drive behaviors and emotions.
  • Maudsley approach: This form of family therapy helps parents of teenagers with anorexia. Parents actively guide a child’s eating while they learn healthier habits.
  • Medications: Some people with eating disorders have other conditions, like anxiety or depression. Taking antidepressants or other medications can improve these conditions. As a result, your thoughts about yourself and food improve.
  • Nutrition counseling: A registered dietitian with training in eating disorders can help improve eating habits and develop nutritious meal plans. This specialist can also offer tips for grocery shopping, meal planning and preparation.

The best treatment approach is often a combination of all of these professionals working together to obtain a comprehensive treatment to address the physical, mental and behavioral aspects.

(Cleveland Clinic)