February 24th to March 2nd is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Now, more than ever, it’s important to shine a light on what exactly eating disorders are, who may be at risk of developing one, and available resources for treatment. In today’s culture of social media filters and the pressure to look perfect, it’s vital to promote awareness and open up conversations about the dangers of eating disorders.

Eating disorders usually start as an obsession with body image, or food, which develops into a psychological condition that can be fatal in the most severe cases. Eating disorders can occur at any age, but most develop in the teens, with up to 13% of youth experiencing at least one eating disorder by the time they turn 20

Although eating disorders are more common in women, researchers have estimated that roughly 10% of the individuals treated for eating disorders are men.

Types of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can present with various symptoms, but the most typically seen are the severe restriction of food, binging, and purging behaviors such as vomiting or over-exercising after eating. The three most commonly diagnosed eating disorders are bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

Anorexia is usually distinguished by abnormally low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted body image perception. People who live with anorexia tend to severely restrict the amount of food they eat and obsess about every calorie they take in. The extreme efforts they take to control their food intake and weight often significantly interfere with their lives.

Bulimia typically involves binging large amounts of food and then purging in an attempt to get rid of the extra calories. Purging may consist of induced vomiting, use of laxatives, enemas, or diuretics after binging to prevent weight gain.

People with anorexia or bulimia are often preoccupied with body weight and self-image, although neither condition is really about food. They’re a method of coping with emotional issues. People who may feel powerless over many aspects of their life will start restricting their food intake, which offers them some semblance of control.

Binge eating disorder (BED) involves recurrent episodes of consuming large quantities of food in a very short amount of time. There is often a feeling of loss of control and shame and guilt associated with the binges. BED differs from Bulimia in that there are usually no episodes of purging afterward.

BED is often confused with overeating. Overeating means eating more calories than are necessary to maintain current weight and health. While the urge to eat can be hard to resist, BED is characterized as an impulse control disorder and involves compulsive behaviors.

Risk Factors

Certain factors may increase the risk of developing an eating disorder, including:

  • Family history

  • Other mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder

  • History of extreme dieting

  • Stress

  • Drastic life changes such as life transitions, death of a loved one, or divorce

Treatment options for eating disorders

There are a lot of treatments available for eating disorders, including inpatient and residential treatment. Outpatient options involve individual therapy and family therapy.

Family therapy is often used for children or adolescents with an eating disorder, although adults living with an eating disorder may also benefit. For younger clients, their family is an essential part of their recovery. Family members can help maintain and encourage healthy eating habits and interrupt unhealthy behaviors such as binging and purging. In therapy, they will learn to recognize relapse patterns and, along with exploring the root causes of the eating disorder, they will learn tools to help their child cope during the recovery process.

Are you worried that someone close to you has an eating disorder? Has your child become preoccupied with their weight and developed some unhealthy behaviors around food? They may not even realize or believe that they have a serious issue. They may become defensive when asked about it. Talk to them openly and honestly about your concern and encourage them to seek help. If they’re hesitant or scared about seeking treatment, offer to go with them or be there for support when they make the call.

If you’re the one struggling, know you’re not alone, and there is no shame in asking for help.

At Serene Health, we have appointments available via our Telehealth app so that you can talk to a therapist from the comfort of your own home. Call Serene Health at 844-737-3638 or visit us at www.serenehealth.com to schedule an appointment.