What Causes Eating Disorders
It is unlikely that an eating disorder has one single cause. It’s normally due to a combination of many factors, events, feelings or pressures. A person might use food to help them deal with painful situations or feelings without realising it.
These factors may include low self-esteem, problems with friends or family relationships, problems at school, university or work, high academic expectations, lack of confidence, concerns about sexuality, or sexual assault or emotional abuse.
Studies have shown that genetics may also be a contributing factor to eating disorders.
Seeking Treatment For An Eating Disorder
It is important to know, however, that eating disorders are treatable. There is help available to those suffering from an eating disorder. You can visit the National Eating Disorders Association website for some useful tools. You can use this screening tool to determine if you or a loved one may be suffering from an eating disorder. You an also contact the NEDA helpline for support and resources.
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is February 25 – March 3, 2019. Were changing the conversation around food, body image, and eating disorders! Join the movement and #ComeAsYouAre, not as you think you should be. www.nedawareness.org.
Rebecca Encao, MSMHC is both an instructor and a team lead for Southern New Hampshire University and has taught psychology and social science courses for SNHU since 2015. Prior to that she worked with eating disorder patients at Eating Recovery Center in Denver.
What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor
If you have an eating disorder, you may want to ask your healthcare provider:
- What type of eating disorder do I have?
- What is the best treatment for the eating disorder I have?
- What are the treatment risks and side effects?
- What type of follow-up care do I need after treatment?
- Should I look out for signs of complications?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Eating disorders are a serious problem that can affect your mental and physical health. If you think you have an eating disorder, dont be embarrassed about seeking help. Millions of Americans struggle every day with an eating disorder. With proper medical care and mental health counseling, you can get better. Years of living with an untreated eating disorder can harm your physical health and may lead to life-threatening problems. Take the first step to protecting your well-being by talking to your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/07/2020.
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What’s It Like To Have An Eating Problem
If you have an eating problem, there are many ways that it can affect how you feel or behave. The way you eat, and how you think about food, may be one of the most noticeable effects.
Warning: the video and the examples below may be upsetting and potentially triggering. If you are feeling vulnerable at the moment, you might want to move on to the next section.
Watch Shaista, Dave, Lilith and Olivia talk about their eating problems. They discuss their experiences of eating disorders such as anorexia, restrictive eating, bingeing and purging. This video is seven minutes and 16 seconds long.
- restrict the amount of food you eat
- eat more than you need, or feel out of control when you eat
- eat regularly in secret or have a fear of eating in public
- feel very anxious about eating or digesting food
- eat in response to difficult emotions without feeling physically hungry
- stick to a rigid set of diet rules or certain foods
- feel anxious and upset if you have to eat something else
- do things to get rid of what you eat, sometimes known as purging
- feel disgusted at the idea of eating certain foods
- eat things that aren’t really food, such as dirt, soap or paint
- feel scared of certain types of food
- think about food and eating a lot, even all the time
- compare your body to other people’s and think a lot about its shape or size
- check, test and weigh your body very often
- base your self-worth on your weight, or whether you pass your checks and tests.
Other Specified Feeding And Eating Disorder
This diagnostic category includes eating disorders or disturbances of eating behavior that cause distress and impair family, social or work function but do not fit the other categories listed here. In some cases, this is because the frequency of the behavior dose not meet the diagnostic threshold or the weight criteria for the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa are not met.
An example of other specified feeding and eating disorder is “atypical anorexia nervosa”. This category includes individuals who may have lost a lot of weight and whose behaviors and degree of fear of fatness is consistent with anorexia nervosa, but who are not yet considered underweight based on their BMI because their baseline weight was above average.
Since speed of weight loss is related to medical complications, individuals who lose a lot of weight rapidly by engaging in extreme weight control behaviors can be at high risk of medical complications, even if they appear normal or above average weight.
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How Do I Know If It’s A Problem
As it may feel like part of your everyday life, you might be unsure if your issue with food and eating is a problem. But if your relationship with food and eating is affecting your life, you can seek help. It doesn’t matter how much you weigh or what your body looks like.
Some people don’t seek help because they think their problem is not serious enough. Sometimes they do not feel âill enoughâ to have an eating problem.
It’s also possible to have problems with eating and keep them hidden. Sometimes this can be for very long time.
“I never looked âillâ. When I read about eating disorders it was always girls with acute anorexia. Because that wasnât me, I felt like my behaviour was just a bizarre quirk Iâd made up.”
What Other Health Problems Can You Have With Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder may lead to weight gain and health problems related to obesity. Overweight and obesity are linked to many health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. People with binge eating disorder may also have mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. Some people with binge eating disorder also have sleep disorders, problems with their digestive system, or joint and muscle pain. More than half of people with binge eating disorder report it caused them problems in social functioning, for example, it interferes with their normal daily activities.1
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How Common Is Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States, and it affects people of all racial and ethnic groups. About 1.25% of adult women and 0.42% of adult men have binge eating disorder.1 About 1.6% of teens age 13 to 18 years old are affected.2 A much larger percentage of teens and adults have episodes of binge eating or loss-of-control eatingwhich is the feeling that you cannot control your eating, regardless of how much food you actually eatbut at a rate that is not frequent enough to meet the criteria for binge eating disorder.
The average age at which binge eating disorder first occurs is 25 years.1 Nearly two-thirds of people who meet the criteria for binge eating disorder experience binge eating episodes over the span of 1 year or longer.1
Where To Get Help
If you or someone you know has the symptoms of an eating disorder, it is important to seek professional help as early as possible. Eating disorders are damaging to the body and can even be fatal but they are treatable.
Visiting your doctor is the first step to recovery. If you don’t have a GP, you can find one near you using the healthdirect Service Finder.
You can speak confidentially to an adviser on the Butterfly Foundation National Helpline .
You can also call Eating Disorders Victoriafor advice, support and information on 1300 550 236 .
If you are in crisis and need counselling now, you can call:
- Lifeline 13 11 14
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Can I Be Detained In Hospital Under The Mental Health Act
Eating disorders are mental disorders. Your life may be at risk if your eating disorder is very bad. You may need treatment in hospital. If you refuse treatment you can be sent to hospital. You can be treated against your will under the Mental Health Act.
How will doctors decide if I should be detained under the Mental Health Act?
Doctors will look at risk to decide if you need to be sent to hospital. They should not base their decision on your weight or body mass index alone. Other things they will look at include:
- your pulse, blood pressure and core temperature,
- muscle power,
- blood tests for things like your sodium, potassium and glucose levels, and
- your heart rate.
Can I be force-fed?
Feeding is recognised as treatment for anorexia under the Mental Health Act.
The person in charge of your care under the Mental Health Act is called the responsible clinician. This person will be a psychiatrist or another professional who has had specialist training.
A responsible clinician must be appointed to look after your care if you are detained on a medical ward.
You can find more information about the Mental Health Act by clicking here.
Body Mass Index And Diagnosis
In your assessment, your BMI should not be the only factor your GP or hospital doctor takes into account.
Unfortunately, diagnosis and treatment for an eating disorder can be related to your weight. You could have a serious problem with eating, but without meeting the criteria for diagnosis. This can feel very frustrating.
However, you should not need an eating disorder diagnosis to get treatment for an eating problem.
Usually, your recommended treatment will be for the disorder most similar to your eating problem.
See our page on treatment and support for more details.
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What Is An Eating Disorder
An eating disorder is a serious mental illness characterised by disturbances to thoughts, behaviours and attitudes to food and eating. For some, this extends to pre-occupation with exercise and body weight/shape.
Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice, a diet gone wrong or a cry for attention. Eating disorders can take many different forms and interfere with a persons day to day emotional, physical and social health. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders recognises the following eating disorders:
Its estimated that one million Australians have an eating disorder, and this number is increasing.
Types Of Eating Disorders: Symptoms Causes And Effects
Eating disorders are about more than just fad diets and vanity they are a serious mental illness that could ultimately cause the end of someones life. Its estimated that as many as 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from an eating disorder. Approximately 4-10% of male and 10-20% of female college students are dealing with an eating disorder.
In spite of heightened awareness of some of the more common types of eating disorders, there are still many misconceptions. Lets take a look at some facts to help dispel the myths of eating disorders.
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Diagnosing An Eating Disorder
People who have an eating disorder may eat too little or too much food. They may also be preoccupied with their shape or weight.
Eating disorders can affect anyone. But females in the United States are twice as likely as males to have the illness, according to the National Eating Disorders Association .
There are four main types of eating disorders:
- Anorexia nervosa: People with this condition dont eat enough. And they may have an extremely thin appearance.
- Bulimia nervosa: People with this condition overeat and then purge to avoid gaining weight. They may also abuse laxatives and diet pills.
- Binge eating: People with this condition eat uncontrollably and dont purge.
- Other specified feeding or eating disorder : This condition was originally called eating disorders not otherwise specified .
The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. But several factors can contribute to the disease. Eating disorders may begin in the teen and young adult years. These are ages when many people are focused on their self-image. The illness can also run in families. Some emotional disorders, like obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression, increase the risk for an eating disorder.
Clean Out The Kitchen
Having lots of or trigger foods in the kitchen can make it much easier to binge eat.
Conversely, keeping healthy foods on hand can reduce your risk of emotional eating by limiting the number of unhealthy options.
Start by clearing out processed snack foods like chips, candies, and pre-packaged convenience foods and swapping them for healthier alternatives.
Stocking your kitchen with fruits, vegetables, protein-rich foods, whole grains, nuts, and seeds can improve your diet and reduce your risk of binge eating unhealthy foods.
Summary Removing unhealthy foods from your kitchen and stocking up on healthy alternatives can improve diet quality and make it harder to binge eat.
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Eating Problems And Other Mental Health Problems
Many people with eating problems also have other mental health problems. Some common experiences include:
- phobias of certain foods
- issues with self-esteem and body image
- forms of self-harmâ you may see your eating problem as a form of self-harm, or may hurt yourself in other ways too
- body dysmorphic disorder, which is an anxiety disorder linked to body image.
Food is one of many mediums through which anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive behaviours can be expressed.
“My eating disorder has always gone hand in hand with depression and anxiety in such a way that they haven’t felt like distinct, discrete illnesses but like one issue.”
Signs Of Anorexia Nervosa
People with anorexia nervosa have an extreme fear of gaining weight. They often diet and exercise relentlessly, sometimes to the point of starvation. About one-third to one-half of anorexics also binge and purge by vomiting or misusing laxatives. People with anorexia have a distorted body image, thinking they are overweight when in fact they are underweight. They may count calories obsessively and only allow themselves tiny portions of certain specific foods. When confronted, someone with anorexia will often deny that thereâs a problem.
The signs of anorexia can be subtle at first, because it develops gradually. It may begin as an interest in dieting before an event like a school dance or a beach vacation. But as the disorder takes hold, preoccupation with weight intensifies. It creates a vicious cycle: The more weight the person loses, the more that person worries and obsesses about weight.
The following symptoms and behaviors are common in people with anorexia:
- Dramatic weight loss
- Complaining about constipation or stomach pain
- Denying that extreme thinness is a problem
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Who Is More Likely To Develop Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder can occur in people of average body weight, but it is more common in people who have obesity, particularly severe obesity. However, it is important to note that most people with obesity do not have binge eating disorder.
Binge eating disorder is more common in younger and middle-aged people. However, older people can be affected, too.
Binge eating disorder is common among people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.3,4 The distress of having diabetes, which requires a constant focus on weight and food control, may be the reason for this link. In some people, binge eating disorder contributes to the development of type 2 diabetes, both through excessive weight gain and increased risk of metabolic abnormalities. Binge eating disorder can also make it harder for people with diabetes to control their blood glucose, also known as blood sugar.
For some people, painful childhood experiencessuch as family problems and critical comments about your shape, weight, or eating habitsare linked to developing binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder runs in families, and researchers have identified a genetic component as well.
Getting Help For Someone Else
It can be difficult to know what to do if you’re worried that someone has an eating disorder.
They may not realise they have an eating disorder. They may also deny it, or be secretive and defensive about their eating or weight.
Let them know you’re worried about them and encourage them to see a GP. You could offer to go along with them.
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Types Of Eating Disorders
The most common eating disorders are:
- anorexia nervosa trying to control your weight by not eating enough food, exercising too much, or doing both
- bulimia losing control over how much you eat and then taking drastic action to not put on weight
- binge eating disorder eating large portions of food until you feel uncomfortably full
What Is The Prognosis For People Who Have Eating Disorders
People who get treatment for eating disorders often recover and go on to lead healthy lives. Its helpful to detect a problem early and start treatment right away.
There are different levels of care, including:
- Outpatient therapy .
- Intensive outpatient therapy .
- Inpatient therapy .
Your primary care doctor will work with you to decide what level of treatment would be right for you.
Left untreated, people with eating disorders can develop life-threatening complications. Some people may need to receive medical and mental health care at a hospital or treatment center.
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