Eating disorders are a serious and often fatal illness that affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses. They are characterized by severe disturbances in eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. They are the most common mental disorders and the leading cause of death among American women in their 20s and 30s.
The most likely description of eating disorders is that they involve distorted body image, excessive focus on food and weight, and a desire to control one’s environment. These symptoms are usually accompanied by feelings of sadness, guilt or self-hatred.
There are several types of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. They are a result of a variety of factors, including genetics, family history, culture and media influence.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that involves an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming overweight. It may be characterized by a lack of energy and the inability to exercise regularly or lose weight through dieting or fasting. In addition, it can be accompanied by a number of behaviors, such as restricting calories, using laxatives or vomiting to purge, and starving oneself to regain lost weight.
Binge eating disorder is an eating disorder that involves frequent, large binges of food over a short period of time. It can also involve episodes of feeling hungry before a binge and eating large amounts of food even after a person is full or uncomfortably stuffed. It is not a disorder that can be caused by obesity or a medical condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure, although it can increase the risk of these conditions.
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by excessive and often binge-like episodes of overeating. It can also be accompanied by extreme fear of gaining weight or losing control of one’s environment and behavior. It is most common in young adults and usually has an earlier onset than other eating disorders.
ARFID, previously known as selective eating disorder, is an eating disorder characterized by a fear of certain foods and an avoidance of other foods. It can be a result of an early traumatic experience, such as the death of a loved one.
Pica is an eating disorder characterized by craving non-food substances. Individuals who have pica crave non-food items such as ice, dirt, chalk, soap, paper, hair, wool, pebbles, laundry detergent and cornstarch.
Other psychiatric conditions can also cause a preoccupation with body image and shape. Some of these conditions include body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), muscle dysmorphia, and trichotillomania (compulsive hair-pulling).
In some cases, the symptoms of an eating disorder may not be obvious until it is too late to treat. They can also occur in conjunction with other psychiatric conditions such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder.
The most likely treatment for an eating disorder includes a multidisciplinary approach, which includes the help of a doctor, dietitian and therapist. The team works to reduce the severity of the symptoms by changing the way the patient thinks and feels about his or her body and food.