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Can You Develop An Eating Disorder

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Learn More About Eating Disorders

Did you know that the most common kind of eating disorder isnt anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, but binge eating disorder? Did you know its possible to have anorexia nervosa without becoming medically underweight? Eating disorders come in as many forms as the people who get them. Thats why if you notice unusual eating patterns or attitudes about food in yourself, you should educate yourself about what the symptoms are.

There are various organizations with an online presence that can help you with this.Check out NEDA for a list of symptoms, for starters. The National Eating Disorder Association has been around for decades, and theyve been able to put together a comprehensive and easy-to-understand encyclopedia of common and not-so-common eating disorders. Try to remain objective about your eating patterns and feelings about your body it can be difficult with an eating disorder confusing your mind and causing distorted self-perception, so remember to sit back and think without bias.

Eating Disorders In Midlife Women

It’s only been in recent years that eating disorder research has included women in midlife. Research shows that around 3.6% of women aged 40 to 50 years experience an eating disorder every year. Based on DSM-5 criteria, other specified feeding and eating disorders is the most common eating disorder found in this age group, followed by binge-eating disorder , bulimia nervosa , and anorexia nervosa .

According to midlife eating disorder specialist Dr. Holly Grishkat, midlife or older women living with eating disorders essentially fall into three categories:

  • Those who have struggled with an eating disorder for years without seeking treatment
  • Those who had an eating disorder as a teen or young adult and recovered, only to relapse in midlife
  • Those who develop an eating disorder for the first time in midlife

Grishkat says that most midlife women who struggle with later-life eating disorders actually had an eating disorder their entire lives, followed by those who had an eating disorder when they were young.

Many people with eating disorders tend to suffer in silence, making it difficult for researchers to estimate how many people are affected by these disorders.

What An Eating Disorder Is Not

With all the current fuss about skinny celebrities, it is tempting to regard an eating disorder as vanity, weak willpower, attention seeking behaviour or even just a phase.  Eating disorders are complex mental-health problems which begin very simply, with a wish to be a little thinner and more attractive. However they morph over time into something more sinister.  Having said this, many people with eating disorders are not mentally ill, they are often high-functioning, sensitive, intelligent people. Many live normal lives, have normal relationships and do not have any other emotional problems.

How Are Eating Disorders Treated

Eating disorders are best treated by a team that includes a doctor, dietitian, and therapist. Treatment includes nutrition counseling, medical care, and talk therapy . The doctor might prescribe medicine to treat binge eating, anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns.

The details of the treatment depend on the type of eating disorder and how severe it is. Some people are hospitalized because of extreme weight loss and medical complications. 

What Are The Warning Signs Of An Eating Disorder

8 ways to develop an eating disorder

If they are not recognized and addressed, eating disorder behaviours can result in serious physical and emotional problems.

Here are some signs that your teen may be struggling with an eating disorder and needs immediate help:

  • irritability, depression and social withdrawal.
  • excessive preoccupation with calories, food or “healthy eating”.
  • frequent negative comments about their weight and shape.
  • restriction of food intake.
  • making excuses to avoid eating.
  • significant weight loss or weight gain .
  • compulsive exercising.
  • frequently eating excessive amounts of food in a short period of time.
  • consuming food alone, at night or secretly.
  • using laxatives or diet pills.
  • going to the bathroom immediately after eating.

When Is Fasting Diagnosed As An Eating Disorder

Mastela emphasized that any form of IF should be done under the supervision of a registered dietitian, and any diet that encourages a restrictive eating schedule really should be approached with caution from the start. Sondra Kronberg, MS, RD, CDN, CEDRD-S, and founder and spokesperson of National Eating Disorders Association , said this is where the line is drawn: “The degree to which one’s thoughts and activities and behaviors around food , weight, body, and exercise take up space inside one’s head and interfere with the quality of life, spontaneity, socialization, and health can be potentially fatal that is the degree one is suffering for disordered eating or an eating disorder,” she told POPSUGAR.

Jennifer Sommer-Dirks, MS, RD, CSSD, and nutrition manager at the Eating Recovery Center in Denver, CO, also added that disordered eating goes beyond food. “Someone who is fasting may also be suffering from an eating disorder if they are also struggling with body-image distress or if they are experiencing stress or anxiety when not able to follow the fast as planned,” Sommer-Dirks told us. Another sign is if he or she is using fasting as a coping mechanism to ease their anxiety, depression, or other life stresses.

Sign #3: Youre Avoiding Dealing With Something Big

No matter how rosy your life appears to your friends on social media, part of being human is enduring the natural ups and downs of life. However, if youve recently experienced a death in the family, a scary car accident, or even a disappointing breakup, you might be inclined to skip through the recovery steps and instead, focus on something you feel you can control. In times of great stress, people tend to revert to past coping strategies as a way to feel more in control, which can include eating disorder behaviors, says Mysko. Change in routine can heighten anxiety, something we are seeing now during the Covid-19 pandemic. Its important that individuals feel supported and have access to resources in order to understand various ways of coping. At NEDA, weve adapted our services in order to make sure our community is supported during times of change. Our helpline is completely virtual, with representatives available via phone or text. Additionally, we have an online chat available for any information, resources or support that is needed.

Intermittent Fasting Vs Eating Disorder: Experts Weigh In On Where To Draw The Line

Before the ketogenic diet rose to mainstream popularity, it was Whole30, Paleo, DASH . . . and the list goes on. Though some trendy diets are significantly safer than others, we also have to consider the risks that come with drastically altering our eating habits especially when weight loss is the ultimate goal. Let’s discuss intermittent fasting in particular. We’ve seen many success stories from those who’ve followed the diet and covered the benefits of eating within a restricted window, including improved digestion and increased energy. But at what point does intermittent fasting pose a risk for developing a potential eating disorder? We looked to three experts to weigh in on this important matter.

Life Transitions Can Trigger Eating Disorders

Dena Cabrera, PsyD, CEDS, executive clinical director of Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders in Arizona, told Healthline that the reasons older women develop eating disorders vary.

Some may have had eating disorders in their teens and had decades of recovery, only to relapse when theyre older.

Others may have been preoccupied with food and weight for a long time, but have never been compromised until now.

The loss of status in a youth-oriented world can also contribute to development of eating disorders or distorted body image, explained Cabrera.

She added that other triggers include the death of a loved one, divorce, traumatic illness, and suddenly finding yourself with an empty nest.

Julie began struggling with food and weight as a teenager.

I lost a lot of weight before I went to high school. Then I learned from friends about bulimia. It seemed like a good way to keep the weight off, she told Healthline.

Now 47 years old, Julie acknowledges the secrecy surrounding eating disorders.

It seems easier in your 40s because no one is looking over your shoulder, she explained.

Through therapy, Julie discovered that her eating disorder is at least partly triggered by her husbands frequent absences due to work. She realized shed been planning for his overnight shifts and out-of-town trips by stocking up on binge foods.

New York City-based therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, specializes in eating disorders and body image.

The health consequences are serious at any age.

How Should I Prepare For A Conversation About My Childs Eating Disorder

Before beginning the conversation, it can be helpful to research the condition thoroughly, as well as read accounts from those in recovery. This way parents can better understand and empathize with their childs experience.

Its valuable to recognize that children with an eating disorder may deny that they have a problem. This occurs for many reasonschildren may struggle with shame and anxiety about the disorder, they may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of having to confront it, and younger children may not fully understand it themselves. Even if this is the case, it is important to begin discussing and confronting the disorder together.

Another line of thinking a child may have is “I’m not sick enough to get better,” in which the child recognizes a problem but doesn’t believe it’s severe enough to merit solving. Perhaps they believe the benefits outweigh the costs, fear what they might lose, can’t imagine a life without their particular relationship to food, or perceive recovery as self-indulgent. In response, parents can encourage small changes and provide perspective on what the child is missing in their current state of being.

How Does An Eating Disorder Begin

Eating disorders dont happen overnight; they can develop over the course of a few months or a few years. Like with any mental health condition, eating disorders, begin differently for each person. For some, it may be losing a few pounds and enjoying the way their body looks with less weight, for others it may be finding comfort in food, and still, for others, it may begin due to depression, stressful triggers, or trauma.

Those with anorexia have significant weight loss from restricting calories, often not realizing how underweight they may be and perceiving themselves as fat, despite a dangerously low body weight. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition and claims the lives of an estimated 10-20% individuals due to complications. Associated with a distorted sense of body image, anorexia is closely linked to depression.

Bulimia is characterized by cycles of binge eating followed by purging the body of unwanted calories. The sequence can be triggered by stress, anxiety, depression, and a lack of control. Individuals who have bulimia might feel regret after a binge, but find comfort and well-being following a purge. Purging can bring a sense of control and ease in the stress and anxiety someone may be feeling.  Often consuming between 3,400 calories in as little as an hour or as many as 20,000 calories in eight hours, those with bulimia may repeat the cycle several times in a week.

Risk Factors For Eating Disorders

We don’t know why some older children , particularly adolescents, develop an eating disorder and others don’t. However, many factors might influence an adolescent to develop an unhealthy eating pattern or to become afraid of gaining weight. These factors may be psychological, social, environmental or biological.

Often, a combination of things may trigger an eating disorder in a vulnerable person.

What Is An Eating Disorder

What to Expect at the Best Eating Disorder Treatment ...

To understand why people get eating disorders, we first have to describe what an eating disorder actually is.  Many people have odd eating habits but a true eating disorder is extreme shape and weight control behaviour which in turn is caused by excessive concerns about your weight. Most people with eating disorders have poor self worth and perfectionist opinions about how they should look and what they should weigh. Their need to be perfect often extends into other areas of their life. People with eating disorders also complain a great deal about feeling fat. Many people without an eating disorder have fat days too. In someone with eating distress, this is usually emotional experience such as anger or anxiety which is not being recognised.

You Count Calories And Weigh Yourself Obsessively

Are you constantly planning what and obsessing over what youll have for your next snack? Do you feel the urge to step on the scale multiple times per day? And is your mood determined by the number on the scale? People suffering from an eating disorder typically weigh themselves repeatedly and often decide on their next meal based on how many calories the food contains and how fat or skinny the meal will be. If you recognize any of the above, dont feel ashamed to tell someone you trust about it or reach out to a licensed professional.

What Causes Anorexia

The exact causes of anorexia nervosa are unknown. However, the condition sometimes runs in families; young women with a parent or sibling with an eating disorder are likelier to develop one themselves.

Then there are psychological, environmental, and social factors that may contribute to the development of anorexia. People with anorexia come to believe that their lives would be better if only they were thinner. These people tend to be perfectionists and overachievers. In fact, the typical anorexic person is a good student involved in school and community activities. Many experts think that anorexia is part of an unconscious attempt to come to terms with unresolved conflicts or painful childhood experiences. While sexual abuse has been shown to be a factor in the development of bulimia, it is not associated with the development of anorexia.

Hales, R., and Yudofsky, S. , Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry, 4th edition, American Psychiatric Publishing, 2003. 

Brewerton, T., Clinical Handbook of Eating Disorders: An Integrated Approach – Edition 1, Marcel Dekker, Inc, 2004.

Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders website.

How Do Teens Cope

It is very natural for teens who feel anxious or stressed to seek ways to reduce their negative feelings and thoughts. Some positive coping strategies include participating in sports, creative arts or volunteer work. Each of these strategies can help reduce their stress and increase their self-esteem and resilience.

On the other hand, there are many coping strategies that may actually create more harm than good and interfere with a teen’s daily life, personal development and mental and physical health. Extreme dieting and the pursuit of thinness, along with alcohol and substance abuse or antisocial behaviours, are examples of unproductive and unhealthy strategies teens may choose to feel better, less anxious and more in control. Unfortunately, these behaviours usually cause more distress and isolation and may result in the development of eating disorders and/or addictions.

How To Tell If Your Child Has An Eating Disorder

It can be upsetting as a parent to watch your child struggle with an eating disorder. It can leave you feeling confused and frustrated and you may not know where to turn. However, it’s important to know that with the right help, children can make a lasting recovery from their eating disorder and you as a parent can play a crucial role in this.

Sign #1: You Think About Food All The Time

Take a moment and reflect on the past few hours of your day. Whether you were spending time with pals, running errands, or working, what thoughts consumed your mind? If food is at the forefront of your consciousness nearly all the timehow youre going to eat it and prepare it, what you might do to make up for eating behaviors that you have determined are unacceptableyou could be heading down an unhealthy road. Having an obsessive focus on food to the point of it inhibiting your daily life can be a warning sign of an eating disorder, says Claire Mysko, chief executive officer of The National Eating Disorders Association . Although being aware of nutritional quality isnt a problem in and of itself, there is a presentation of disordered eating called orthorexia, which occurs when an individual becomes fixated on healthy eating to a point of actual damage to their well-being. If youre anxious about how much mental energy youre dedicating to calories, nutritional value, and food quantity, consider recording how often these thoughts come along. You can bring this information to your doctor, who can help you understand how to control and reduce these instances.

How Do I Encourage My Child To Accept Treatment

Confronting a disorder and seeking treatment will likely require many conversations. In these talks, parents should be specific about the next step, such as finding a therapist or being evaluated by an eating disorder specialist.

Stay involved in a childs treatment, such as by attending appointments. This can allow parents to support their child and provide insight or advocacy in the treatment setting. Dont be discouraged if the first therapist or clinic doesnt seem to workfinding an effective treatment plan may take time.

There may come a time when a parent has to draw a strong boundary. They may decide that seeking treatment is required for them to continue paying for a childs phone or college, or even for a child to continue living in their home. Although this can be deeply distressing, it is for the childs safety and sometimes becomes the final straw that forces them to address the disorder.

The guidance above applies to children who need help but are not in immediate danger. If you are urgently concerned for your childs safety, go to the hospital or call 911.

How Can I Prevent My Child From Developing An Eating Disorder

Nothing can definitively prevent an eating disorderthose forces are sometimes out of a parents control. But cultivating a positive, accepting atmosphere around body image can help your child thrive.

Parents can do that by emphasizing that self-worth comes from personality, not appearance, and that people with all different body types can be strong and happy. Parents can avoid voicing regular concerns about their own body, weight or food choices . They should also avoid commenting on their childs weight or body.

Additionally, parents can strive to develop an open, communicative relationship so that if their child encounters challenges such as bullying or anxiety, parents can listen and address those challenges together in a healthy way.

Treatment For Eating Disorders

Eating disorders and sexual abuse in Greenbelt, MD ...

You can recover from an eating disorder, but it may take time and recovery will be different for everyone.

If you’re referred to an eating disorder specialist or team of specialists, they’ll be responsible for your care.

They should talk to you about the support you might need, such as for other conditions you have, and include this in your treatment plan.

Your treatment will depend on the type of eating disorder you have, but usually includes a talking therapy.

Your treatment may also involve working through a guided self-help programme if you have bulimia or binge eating disorder.

Most people will be offered individual therapy, but those with binge eating disorder may be offered group therapy.

Read more about the different treatments for:

Treatment for other specified feeding or eating disorder will depend on the type of eating disorder your symptoms are most like.

For example, if your symptoms are most like anorexia, your treatment will be similar to the treatment for anorexia.

I Need To Feel In Control

Eating disorders can also begin when they feel that they want to control their surroundings as much as possible. Restricting food and monitoring weight or body size becomes a way to compensation for the inability to control the other areas of the personâs life. For other people, the desire to eat when they are not really hungry can give them an âout of controlâ feeling, which they then try to control by binging and purging, exercising excessively, or going on unhealthy diets. All of these lay the groundwork for eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. As someone begins going down this path, you may notice them making charts, going through complex rituals involving foods, and spending a lot of time obsessing about food and exercise plans.

Know The Physical And Emotional Signs Of Disordered Eating

The following are the most common physical signs of disordered eating:

  • Significant fluctuations in weight.
  • Changes in skin and hair .
  • Acid-related dental problems, including cavities and erosion of enamel .

The emotional signs of disordered eating include the following:

  • Being preoccupied with weight, food, dieting, calories and carbohydrates to the point that eating and managing weight become a primary concern over other activities.
  • Being preoccupied with body image, body size/shape, a specific part of the body and/or the number on the scale.
  • Significantly limiting the repertoire of foods by restricting whole categories of food and only considering a very small number of foods safe to eat.
  • Performing specific food rituals.
  • Withdrawing from social eating activities.

Early Warning Signs Of Eating Disorders

Adolescents can become fussy about particular foods or lose weight for lots of reasons. It is important to get any concerns checked by a health professional.Some signs that a young person might have an eating disorder and that should be investigated further include: 

  • rapid weight loss or weight gain
  • changes in shape

Social Or Environmental Risk Factors

Social or environmental risk factors in the development of an eating disorder may include: 

  • being teased or bullied
  • a belief that high expectations from family and others must be met
  • major life changes such as family break-up, or the accumulation of many minor stressors
  • peer pressure to behave in particular ways
  • a parent or other role model who consistently diets or who is unhappy with their body
  • media and advertising images of the ideal body size and shape as slim and fit
  • a cultural tendency to judge people by their appearance.

Genetics Of Eating Disorders

Coming from a family with a history of eating disorders can increase a person’s risk of developing an eating disorder. A portion of this increased risk could be due to the modeling of eating disorder-linked behaviors within a family .

However, twin study research, which can isolate the role of genetics, has confirmed that approximately 40% to 60% of the risk for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder arises from genetic influence. 

Sign #7: You Use Laxatives To Drop Weight

Laxatives can be helpful occasionally for people with digestive problems; theyre not meant as a weight-loss aid. Laxatives, cleanses, diuretics, and diet pills are often abused by people who are desperate to see the number on the scale go down, says Brennan. If you find yourself in a codependent relationship with your scale, try putting it away or having a friend store it for you for a while. If you need to weigh yourself in order to follow medical advice, talk with your provider about alternatives to having a scale in the home, such as using the scale at a gym or pharmacy one time per week. It can be very freeing to have your day start without they tyranny of the number on the scale.

How Early Can An Eating Disorder Start

Children as young as 5-years can develop an eating disorder. In fact, research suggests that anorexia is emerging at a younger age and that the condition has increased among children between 8 and 12 years old over the past decade.

Still, the median age when anorexia and bulimia develop is 18 and the median age when binge-eating disorder develops is 21, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

What Is Intermittent Fasting


Intermittent fasting involves stopping and resuming food consumption within a specific time window. The most popular method is 16:8, or Leangains, which requires fasting for 16 hours and eating two to three meals during an eight-hour feeding window. An example would be to cut off meals at 8 p.m. until noon the following day. People who typically skip breakfast each morning are technically intermittent fasting even if they’re unaware of it. We spoke with Lisa Eberly Mastela, MPH, RD, who said there are ways to fast safely, one of the most “doable” forms being 16:8. But other types of IF include more restrictive schedules, like the eat, stop, eat method that requires fasting for 24 hours at a time. That’s when things start to get tricky . . .

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