What’s An Eating Disorder?
The term “eating disorders” refers to a range of complicated mental health issues that are officially categorized as “feeding and eating disorders” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and that can substantially affect health and social functioning.
Eating disorders can result in substantial medical issues as well as mental suffering due to the physical characteristics of their distinguishing symptoms. Additionally, they are the mental disorders with the highest fatality rate.
Types of Eating Disorders
There are many different kinds of food and eating disorders, and each one has its own defining traits and diagnostic standards. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) officially recognizes the following eating disorders.
1. Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
The most prevalent eating disorder is binge eating disorder, which was very recently identified. It is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating, which is characterized by consuming a lot of food while also feeling out of control. People with larger bodies are more likely to develop it. A common complicating factor in the onset and management of BED is weight stigma.
2. Bulimia Nervosa (BN)
Recurrent binge eating episodes followed by compensatory behaviors, or actions taken to make up for the calories consumed, are a hallmark of bulimia nervosa. Vomiting, fasting, excessive exercise, and laxative use are a few examples of these actions.
3. Anorexia Nervosa (AN)
The hallmark of anorexia nervosa is a restricted food intake that results in lower-than-expected body weight, the anxiety of weight increase, and problems with body image. Many people are unaware that larger-framed people can also be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Despite receiving the greatest media attention, anorexia is the least common eating disorder.
4. Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED)
The term “other specified feeding and eating disorder” refers to a broad spectrum of eating issues that produce significant distress and disability but do not fit the precise definitions of binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, or anorexia nervosa. In earlier iterations of the DSM, the category for eating disorders not otherwise defined (EDNOS) was replaced by OSFED and unexplained feeding or eating disorders (UFED).
It is untrue that people with OSFED frequently feel rejected and undeserving of assistance. Subclinical eating disorders are a part of OSFED, which can be just as serious as other eating disorders.
According to research, many people who have eating disorders at the subclinical stage go on to fully manifest them. A stage that many people in recovery go through on their route to full recovery is referred to as subclinical eating disorders.
5. Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), formerly known as a selective eating disorder, is an eating disorder characterized by a restricted food intake without the body image problem typically present in anorexia nervosa. Consistently failing to achieve necessary dietary and/or energy needs is one of its symptoms.
6. Orthorexia Nervosa
Although orthorexia Nervosa has received a lot of attention recently as a potential diagnosis for the next editions of the DSM, it is not a recognized eating disorder in the DSM-5. Because the unhealthy preoccupation is not often motivated by a desire to lose weight, it differs from other eating disorders. Furthermore, food quality is prioritized rather than meal quantity.
Orthorexia Nervosa is an abnormal obsession with healthy eating that entails following a notion of healthy eating to the point of suffering negative effects on one’s physical well-being, relationships with others, and employment.
7. Other Eating Disorders
In addition to the ones listed above, other eating disorders include:
- Night eating syndrome
- Purging disorder
- Rumination disorder
Symptoms of an Eating Disorder
Even though the symptoms of various eating disorders vary widely, some of them might need additional research. Additionally, it’s time to get help if your attitudes and/or actions related to food, weight, or body image are distressing and interfering with everyday functioning.
- Dietary restriction
- Frequent weight changes or being significantly underweight
- Negative body image
- Presence of binge eating
- Presence of excessive exercise
- Presence of purging, laxative, or diuretic use
- Excessive thoughts surrounding food, body image, and weight
Diagnosis of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders can be identified by medical doctors or mental health specialists like psychiatrists and psychologists. A pediatrician or primary care physician will frequently make the diagnosis of an eating disorder after observing signs during a routine examination or after a parent or other family member expresses worry about the conduct of a loved one.
Although there isn’t a single laboratory test to identify eating disorders, your doctor can diagnose you using a range of physical and psychological exams in addition to lab results, such as:
- A physical examination, in which your doctor will measure your height, weight, and vital signs
- Complete blood count, liver, kidney, and thyroid function tests, urinalysis, X-ray, and EKG are among the laboratory examinations.
- Psychological assessment that asks you about your eating habits, bingeing, purging, exercise routine, and body image
Causes of Eating Disorders
Complex diseases include eating disorders. Although we are unsure of the exact cause, there are some ideas.
Although it seems that between 50% and 80% of the risk of developing an eating disorder is inherited, genes do not alone determine who will do so. The saying “genes load the rifle, but environment pulls the trigger” is used frequently.
In those who are genetically predisposed to developing eating disorders, specific circumstances and events—often referred to as “precipitating factors”—contribute to or initiate the onset of such diseases.
Environmental elements that have been linked to precipitation include:
- Life transitions
- Mental illness
- Weight stigma
The media is frequently cited as the cause of eating problems. Although media influence is acknowledged as a complicating factor, it isn’t thought to be the primary reason why eating disorders develop in people. Ultimately, for eating disorders to manifest, a person must also have a genetic susceptibility.
Treatment for Eating Disorders
Please do not put off seeking help because early intervention is linked to better outcomes. Even putting life on wait could be necessary while you concentrate on getting better. Furthermore, when you are well, you will be much better able to appreciate all that life has to offer. Although there are several ways to get assistance, it is typical to start treatment at the most basic level and work up as necessary.
Some sufferers of binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa may look into self-help or guided self-help based on CBT principles. A workbook, handbook, or online resource may be used by the individual to learn about the disorder and cultivate coping mechanisms. Self-help is not advised for those with anorexia nervosa.
2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
The most well-researched outpatient treatment for adult eating problems, CBT consists of the following components:
- Cognitive restructuring
- Body image exposure
- Delays and alternatives
- Food exposure
- Limiting body-checking
- Meal planning
- Regular eating
- Relapse prevention
- Self-monitoring via paper or applications
3. Family-Based Treatment (FBT)
The most thoroughly researched kind of treatment for kids and teenagers with eating problems is family-based treatment (FBT). In essence, the family plays an important role in the therapy team. Parents frequently provide food support, allowing the child to heal in his or her familiar surroundings. FBT also includes externalizing the eating disorder as a key component.
4. Nutritional Therapy
A trained dietician can inspire you to make the necessary changes and assist you in learning (or relearning) the elements of a healthy diet.
5. Weekly Outpatient Treatment
For individuals who have access to treatment, weekly outpatient treatment is often the first step and includes care from a team of professionals, typically a therapist, a dietician, and a doctor. The following are additional effective outpatient treatments for adult eating disorders:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Cognitive rehabilitation counseling
- Interpersonal counseling
6. Intensive Treatment
Treatment is offered at several levels, including intense outpatient, partial hospitalization, residential, and hospital levels of care, for those who require a greater level of care. A multidisciplinary team usually always delivers treatment in these situations.
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Coping With an Eating Disorder
It will be much easier for you to deal with an eating disorder if you take good care of your physical and mental health. Seek assistance from a dependable friend or relative who can be there for you on your road to recovery in addition to speaking with a therapist or attending a support group (like Eating Disorders Anonymous).
Beyond self-care, it’s crucial to learn a few healthy diversionary strategies you can use when you start to obsess over food and weight or feel the need to engage in disordered eating or behaviors. Here are some to think about:
- Explore a new hobby, like photography, painting, or knitting
- Invest in an adult coloring book
- Practice mindfulness meditation
- Take a leisurely walk
- Try a yoga class or DVD
- Write in a journal
A Word From Verywell
It’s difficult to recover from an eating disorder. Although it requires bravery, it is achievable with the correct support network in place.
It is wise for you to seek therapy on your child’s behalf if you are the parent of a youngster who suffers from an eating problem. It’s challenging to support a youngster who has an eating issue, but there are tools available. Even if your loved one has an eating disorder and is an adult, you can still be very helpful to them.
because individuals with eating disorders frequently deny that they have problems Family members and close friends are crucial in helping them find help. Even though recovering from an eating disorder might be difficult and occasionally take a while, it is achievable.
You can get support from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline by calling 1-800-931-2237 if you or a loved one are dealing with an eating problem.