In addition to being extremely preoccupied with food and weight, people with eating disorders often have other co-occurring mental health problems like depression and anxiety. It’s important to address these issues as part of treatment for an eating disorder because they can increase the risk of suicide and medical complications.
Eating disorders are complex conditions with different characteristics, but the three most common ones are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. They are characterized by abnormal eating behaviors that impair health and can lead to dangerously low body weights. These symptoms can also impact a person’s mood and relationships.
Those with anorexia nervosa limit the amount of food they consume and have a severe, distorted body image in which they see themselves as overweight even though they are dangerously underweight (APA, 2022). People with bulimia nervosa have episodes of binge eating, but unlike those with anorexia nervosa, they engage in compensatory behaviors to “get rid of” the excess calories they eat. These behaviors can include vomiting, use of laxatives or diuretics, excessive exercise, and fasting.
Other types of eating disorders include avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, rumination disorder, night eating syndrome, and pica. These disorders are less common than anorexia nervosa, but they can still have serious, life-threatening effects on health and need to be treated.
The media is a common contributor to the development of eating disorders. Young women and girls are bombarded with images of skinny models and actresses, which can send the message that to be beautiful and popular, you need to be thin. These images can be found in magazines, television shows, and movies, as well as online on social media sites.
People with eating disorders are often self-critical and focus on flaws in their appearance, which can contribute to their poor body image. This negative self-talk can be a barrier to seeking help and is associated with lower treatment outcomes.
Research shows that psychological treatments, including psychotherapies and cognitive-behavioral approaches, can help treat eating disorders. Some medications may be used to treat eating disorders and co-occurring conditions like anxiety or depression, but they aren’t right for everyone. Talk with your health care provider about which treatments are best for you.
In addition to a health care provider, someone with an eating disorder should have a support system that can encourage them to seek help and provide emotional support. Family members can play an important role in supporting a loved one during recovery from an eating disorder. They can help encourage a loved one to seek help and can be a source of support during therapy sessions. They can also learn how to better support their loved one’s recovery and become a healthy role model.