Frequently Asked Questions...

Who develops an eating disorder?

Anyone can develop an eating disorder -- males and females of all social and economic classes, races and intelligence levels.

It is difficult to determine the number of people who suffer from eating disorders because people with eating issues are frequently ashamed and secretive about their behavior. Doctors are not required to report eating disorders to health agencies, and may not even be aware someone has an eating disorder when that person seeks treatment for something else.

It is currently estimated that approximately 24 million people suffer from Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa or Binge Eating Disorder, and this estimation is rapidly increasing. At least one tenth of this number are men. The majority of eating disorders usually appear in bright, attractive young women between twelve and twenty-five years of age, although older women are increasingly becoming involved.

Various studies indicate that up to four percent of females may suffer from Anorexia Nervosa during their lifetimes, and approximately the same percentage may suffer from Bulimia Nervosa. Binge Eating Disorder in America is increasing, and it is estimated that up to five percent of the population will experience Binge Eating Disorder at some point during their lives.

Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder are very complicated, and the reasons for developing them can be different from one person to the next. Although these behaviors can be self-destructive acts, most individuals who develop eating disorders do not perceive their habits as harmful to themselves. Most feel that they begin these controlling behaviors in an attempt to fix problems they are experiencing in their lives. Unusual eating habits or weight/body preoccupation may then spiral out of control and become overwhelming to the sufferer or those around them, making it important to seek professional help.

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How do you prevent an eating disorder from developing?

 

Eating disorders are much easier to prevent than to cure.

How do you prevent the development of an eating disorder? As a parent, most of the prevention that you practice will come from what you do and say in your own family -- and what you convey as a role model is much more powerful than what you say.

Get comfortable with your own body and enjoy it, no matter what its size and shape. Try not to criticize your own or anyone else’s appearance; if you do, you teach others to be overly concerned about how they look and critical of their own bodies. Additionally, children who are teased about their weight or bodies often engage in eating disorder behaviors to control their weight.

Don’t forbid certain foods or define foods as “good” or “bad”. Making ice cream and pizza “bad” foods only serves to make them “forbidden fruit”. Healthy eating has room for all foods in moderation. Watching what you eat to be healthy is a good idea, but obsessive attention to calories, fat grams and weight can set someone up for an eating disorder. In fact, dieting is one of the strongest eating disorder triggers there is.

Learn what normal development and weight gain look like. It’s not what you see in magazines or on TV, so it’s important to be a wise consumer of any media. When you look at a magazine, movie or TV show, ask yourself and your children if the images are really representative of what we see every day in our culture.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your child will never become eating disordered. Peer pressure to diet and look a certain way, combined with a culture that overemphasizes appearance and excellence, can send a vulnerable person into an obsessive pursuit of thinness.

If your child repeatedly asks to go on a diet, or starts talking about the need to lose weight and how fat he or she is, you may be witnessing the beginning of an eating disorder. If you aren’t certain how to proceed, make sure you consult with a professional who specializes in this area. Remember that eating disorders can be prevented!

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What is Anorexia Nervosa?

 

Anorexia Nervosa is characterized primarily by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.

Symptoms include:

Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for height and age.
Intense fear of weight gain or being "fat" even though underweight.
Distrubance in the experience of body weight or shape, undue influence of weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of low body weight.
Loss of three consecutive menstrual periods in girls and women post-puberty

Reprinted with permission from the National Eating Disorders Association. For more information: www.NationalEatingDisorders.org

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What is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized primarily by a cycle of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting, in an attempt to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.

Symptoms include:

Regular intake of large amounts of food accompanied by a sense of loss of control over eating behavior.
Regular use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, laxative or diuretic abuse, fasting and/or obsessive or compulsive exercise.
Extreme concern with body weight and shape


Reprinted with permission from the National Eating Disorders Association. For more information: www.NationalEatingDisorders.org

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What is Binge Eating Disorder (BED)?



​Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of compensatory measures to counter the binge eating while feeling out of control, ashamed or disgusted over the behavior.

Symptoms include:

Frequent episodes of eating large quantities of food in short periods of time.
Feeling out of control when binge eating.
There are also several behavioral indicators of BED such as eating when not hungry and eating in secret.


Reprinted with permission from the National Eating Disorders Association. For more information: www.NationalEatingDisorders.org

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What are Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)?

Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) can include some combination of the signs and symptoms of the above disorders, but not all of the criteria necessary to meet a specific diagnosis. Like all eating disorders, EDNOS are physically dangerous and emotionally destructive.



Reprinted with permission from the National Eating Disorders Association. For more information: www.NationalEatingDisorders.org

What are the Medical Complications of an Eating Disorder? 



There are many physical, emotional, and social repercussions of eating disorders. People suffering from Anorexia Nervosa, (AN), Bulimia Nervosa (BN), or Binge Eating Disorder (BED) may isolate themselves in order to hide their illness from friends or family. Their preoccupation with food and body image become the primary focus of their lives and can get in the way of interpersonal relationships, academic achievement, and professional success, as well as normal functioning within society. Medical or physical complications of eating disorders range from mild to severe, and in rare cases can even result in death.



Anorexia Nervosa is self-imposed starvation and may result in:



  • Emaciated or "wasted" appearance.
  • Abnormally slow heart rate called bradycardia, or irregular or racing heart beat called tachycardia.
  • Thinning of the bones called osteopenia, and ultimately a more severe loss of bone mass called osteoporosis, causing brittle bones that may easily fracture.
  • Loss of internal protein stores, both skeletal muscles and organ tissue.
  • Dehydration, which may result in fatigue, nausea, dizziness or fainting.
  • Growth of fine, soft hairs, called lanugo, all over the body.
  • Amenorrhea or loss of menstruation, which may potentially result in reproductive damage.

Bulimia Nervosa is self-imposed vomiting or purging of the bowels, either after a binge or any oral intake. Complications of this disorder include:



  • Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances resulting in weakness, irregular heart rate, and dizziness.
  • Internal bleeding of the esophagus, stomach, throat, or rectal area (in the case of laxative abuse).
  • Tooth decay and staining of the teeth from frequent exposure to the acids of stomach contents.
  • Recurrent heartburn or GERD from weakening of the valve between the stomach and esophagus.
  • Irregular bowel movements or constipation; especially with the abuse of laxatives, resulting in laxative dependence.

Binge Eating Disorder is eating copious amounts of food beyond the level of satisfaction or "fullness", and not purging. Long-term BED can eventually lead to:

  • Obesity and all the psychological and medical complications that are associated with excess body weight.
  • Heart disease due to the elevation of blood cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Type 2 diabetes requiring medication or possibly leading to insulin dependence.
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure, which could potentially cause a stroke.
  • Metabolic Syndrome, which is a combination of any or all of these diseases.

 

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What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is often referred to as “talk therapy”, or counseling. It is an active process between a clinician and client, in which a supportive and comfortable relationship is recommended for the most effective outcome. Psychotherapists are trained professionals who work to help individuals, couples, families and groups better circumvent or replace destructive behaviors and to recognize and effectively cope with feelings and gain insight – all of which facilitate behavioral or emotional change.

The psychotherapist who specializes in the prevention and treatment of eating disorders treats clients who have a distressing relationship with food, weight or their bodies that has become harmful to their day-to-day functioning. Often their relationships, jobs and overall health are affected; the therapist works with them to understand how the various struggles began and how they are currently maintained in their lives.

The therapist identifies personal history, including family and extended family relationships, genetic history, and how relationships and society might be influencing the client’s actions. Eating disorder behaviors and rituals are uncovered and a determination made as to what past and present needs are being satisfied by disordered eating. Therapist and client then strategize to discover things that might be substituted.

Psychotherapists work with clients individually or with partners, in families or groups, and collaborate with other psychotherapists, dieticians, physicians, psychiatrists, school personnel and occasionally with other persons in order to create a supportive “team” for their clients.

The goal of treatment is to help each client bring his or her life back into balance, often through the use of a multidisciplinary team of professionals specializing in disordered eating. Every client’s recovery is approached differently, as each person is seen as an individual with unique needs.