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What Does It Mean To Have An Eating Disorder

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Treatment For Eating Disorders

What it means to have an eating disorder

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.

You may also need regular health checks if your eating disorder is having an impact on your physical health.

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.

Restricting Food Or Dieting

  • Making excuses to avoid meals or situations involving food
  • Eating only tiny portions or specific low-calorie foods, and often banning entire categories of food such as carbs and dietary fat
  • Obsessively counting calories, reading food labels, and weighing portions
  • Developing restrictive food rituals such as eating foods in certain orders, rearranging food on a plate, excessive cutting or chewing.
  • Taking diet pills, prescription stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin, or even illegal drugs such as amphetamines

Where Do I Go From Here

In addition to talking to your family doctor, check out the resources below for more information about eating disorders:

Jessie’s Legacy Program, a program of Family Services of the North Shore

Visit or call 604-988-5281 ext. 349 or email to contact Jessie’s Legacy. Jessie’s Legacy provides eating disorders prevention education, resources and support for BC youth, families, educators and professionals.

Kelty Eating Disorders

Contact Kelty Eating Disorders at or 1-800-665-1822 or 604-875-2084 for information, support, and a BC-based program locater for children, youth and their families. Kelty Eating Disorders is a program of Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre.

BC Partners for Mental Health and Substance Use Information

Visit for the Managing Mental Illnesses series of info sheets, a screening self-test for body image, activities, workbooks, and personal stories about eating disorders and other mental health problems.

HealthLink BC

Call 811 or visit to access free, non-emergency health information for anyone in your family, including mental health information. Through 811, you can also speak to a registered nurse about symptoms you’re worried about, talk with a pharmacist about medication questions, or talk to a registered dietician about healthy eating, food or nutrition.

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Are Teenagers Affected By Eating Disorders

Teenagers can be especially susceptible to eating disorders because of hormonal changes during puberty and social pressure to look attractive or thin. These changes are normal, and your teenager may only practice unhealthy eating habits every once in a while.

But if your teenager begins to obsess over their weight, appearance, or diet, or starts consistently eating too much or too little, they may be developing an eating disorder. Abnormal weight loss or weight gain may also be a sign of an eating disorder, especially if your teenager frequently makes negative comments about their body or perceived size.

If you suspect your teenager has an eating disorder, be open and honest about your concerns. If theyre comfortable talking with you, be understanding and listen to their concerns. Also have them see a doctor, counselor, or therapist to address the social or emotional issues that may be causing their disorder.

Research also suggests that men with eating disorders are underdiagnosed and undertreated. Theyre less likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder, even when they exhibit similar symptoms as a woman.

Research suggests that many young men with eating disorders dont seek treatment because they consider them stereotypically female disorders.

Other Eating And Feeding Problems


For your eating problem, you may get a diagnosis for one of the eating disorders explained on this page.

However, there are other diagnoses you may receive.

These tend to be much less common than anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.

Rumination disorder

If you get a diagnosis of rumination disorder, you’ll regularly regurgitate your food. Regurgitating means bringing food back up that you’ve already eaten and swallowed.

You won’t have a physical health problem to explain it. You might re-chew, re-swallow or spit out the food you regurgitate.

For more details, see Beat’s information about rumination disorder.


If you get a diagnosis of pica, you’ll often eat things that aren’t food.

The things you eat tend to have no nutritional value. Some examples may be chalk, metal or paint. This can be very damaging to your body.

For more details, see Beat’s information about pica.

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder

If you get a diagnosis of ARFID, you’ll strongly feel the need to avoid certain foods . This might be because of smell, taste or texture. The idea of eating may fill you with anxiety.

ARFID does not tend to be linked to body image issues. It’s more anxiety about the process of eating itself.

For more details, see Beat’s information about ARFID.

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What Is The Treatment For An Eating Disorder

If your doctor thinks you most likely have an eating disorder, they will refer you to an eating disorder specialist or service. Most services that treat people with eating disorders bring together a team of different healthcare professionals, including psychiatrists and other doctors, psychologists and dietitians. Some treatment is publicly funded.Treatment for eating disorders involves healthy eating, together with medical care and psychological treatment. You may need to learn how to manage your feelings in a different way. Some people might also be prescribed medications. Most people with eating disorders have mainly outpatient treatment, but you may need to go to hospital for treatment if you are at risk of serious medical problems. With treatment, most people with an eating disorder make a good recovery, although it may take several years.

What Are The Treatment Options

The treatment plan for BED depends on the causes and severity of the eating disorder, as well as individual goals.

Treatment may target binge eating behaviors, excess weight, body image, mental health issues, or a combination of these.

Therapy options include cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, dialectical behavior therapy, weight loss therapy, and medication. These may be carried out on a one-to-one basis, in a group setting, or in a self-help format.

In some people, just one type of therapy may be required, while others may need to try different combinations until they find the right fit.

A medical or mental health professional can provide advice on selecting an individual treatment plan.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Eating Disorders

It is not always easy to tell if someone has an eating disorder, since they may try to hide it because of shame or guilt. However, some of the behaviours associated with eating disorders include:

  • Dieting: this could mean calorie counting, fasting, skipping meals, avoiding certain food groups or having obsessive rituals related to eating.
  • Binge eating: including hoarding of food or the disappearance of large amounts of food from the kitchen.
  • Purging: vomiting or using laxatives to rid the body of food. People who purge often make trips to the bathroom during or after eating.
  • Excessive exercise: a person may refuse to disrupt their exercise routine for any reason, insist on doing a certain number of repetitive exercises or become distressed if unable to exercise.
  • Social withdrawal: the person may avoid social events and situations that involve eating, or they prefer to eat alone.
  • Body image: the person may focus on body shape and weight.
  • Change in clothing style: the person may start wearing baggy clothes, for example.

There are also physical signs that a person may have an eating disorder, such as:

  • Weight changes: fluctuations in weight or rapid weight loss.
  • Disturbed menstrual cycle: loss of or disrupted periods.
  • Being cold: sensitivity to cold weather.
  • Inability to concentrate .

Some of the emotional signs of an eating disorder include:

Understanding Your Loved Ones Eating Disorder

If I skip meals does that mean that I have an eating disorder?

Eating disorders involve extreme disturbances in eating behaviorsfollowing rigid diets, bingeing on food in secret, throwing up after meals, obsessively counting calories. Its not easy to watch someone you care about damage their healthespecially when the solution appears, at least on the outside, to be simple. But eating disorders are more complicated than just unhealthy dietary habits. At their core, theyre attempts to deal with emotional issues and involve distorted, self-critical attitudes about weight, food, and body image. Its these negative thoughts and feelings that fuel the damaging behaviors.

People with eating disorders use food to deal with uncomfortable or painful emotions. Restricting food is used to feel in control. Overeating temporarily soothes sadness, anger, or loneliness. Purging is used to combat feelings of helplessness and self-loathing. Over time, people with an eating disorder lose the ability to see themselves objectively and obsessions over food and weight come to dominate everything else in their lives. Their road to recovery begins by identifying the underlying issues that drive their eating disorder and finding healthier ways to cope with emotional pain.

While you cant force a person with an eating disorder to change, you can offer your support and encourage treatment. And that can make a huge difference to your loved ones recovery.

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Subtle Signs Someone You Love Might Have An Eating Disorder

When I first developed an eating disorder, I didnt realize that I had one. I was experiencing a bad flare-up of my fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome . I got sick each time I ate, and developed a fear of food in the process. I eventually decided to clean up my diet, trying to eliminate all foods that triggered symptoms.

Pretty soon, I had just six foods in my diet, ate only once a day, and exercised non-stopall in the name of better health. I was also irritable, rigid about my routine, and losing weight rapidly. My parents finally pointed out that I was starving myself with too few calories, and I began to eat more and exercise less. However, my eating was still disordered for years. Since the eating disorder was cloaked in my medical conditions, it took me a long time to parcel out what had happened to me.

At the time of my eating issues, I didnt know how complex eating disorders could be. And, judging by their comments at the time, neither did my family and friends. Everyone seemed to focus on my weight, my weight, my weight. But no one brought up my behaviors, like the regimented way I ate, or how I obsessed over certain foods.

If you get that nagging feeling in your gut that a friend or family member is struggling with an eating disorder, don’t brush it off. An honest, compassionate conversation could be the spark that your friend needs to get professional help.

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Should You Try To Lose Weight If You Have Binge Eating Disorder

Losing weight may help prevent or reduce some of the health problems related to carrying excess weight. Binge eating may make it hard to lose weight and keep it off.

If you have binge eating disorder and are overweight, a weight-loss program that helps you develop a structured eating plan and address problem thoughts, particularly about eating and weight, may be helpful. Some people with binge eating disorder require treatment for their binge eating before entering a weight management program. However, some people with binge eating disorder do just as well as people who do not binge eat in behavioral treatment programs.

Talk with your health care professional about whether you should try to manage your binge eating before entering a weight management program. A licensed nutrition professional, such as a registered dietitian trained in disordered eating can help you adopt healthier eating patterns. Learn more on treatment at the National Institute of Mental Health.

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What Are The Different Types Of Eating Disorders

There are many different eating disorders. This factsheet covers Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder and Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders.

Anorexia Nervosa

You will try to keep your weight as low as possible if you have anorexia. You may think you are overweight even if others say you are dangerously thin. You may fear gaining weight and dismiss ideas to encourage you to eat more.

Behavioural symptoms Physical signs
Strict dieting. Such as counting the calories in food excessively, avoiding food you think is fattening and eat only low-calorie food. Being secretive. Such as hiding food, lying about what you have eaten and avoiding eating with other people. Cut food into tiny pieces to make it less obvious that you have eaten little. Take appetite suppressants such as diet pills. Over exercising and get upset if something stops you from exercising. Becoming socially isolated.

Other eating disorders and eating problems

Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder OSFED means you have symptoms of an eating disorder. But you don’t have all the typical symptoms of anorexia, bulimia or BED. You could have a mixture of symptoms from different eating disorders. This does not mean that your illness is less serious. It used to be known as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified .

Diabulimia is not a recognised medical term but it is what people call it.

How To Treat Eating Disorders

Bulimia Teeth Damage

Due to the insidious ways in which eating disorders pervade all aspects of ones body, mind, and life, receiving the appropriate treatment is important. There are various levels of care designed to treat specific stages of eating disorder severitythese range from inpatient at a medical facility down to outpatient. Any eating disorder treatment center can assess a struggling individual to determine the appropriate level of care.

Outside of receiving treatment in general, it is also important to ensure the facility uses evidence-based practices, as these can lead to better long-term outcomes.

There are many evidence-based treatments that can support eating disorder recovery the most well-known and most commonly used is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy , Dialectical Behavior Therapy , and Family-Based Treatment .

Do not be afraid to ask any questions that arise if you or a loved one are searching for the treatment that will best support recovery.

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Strategies For Effective Treatment

Consult your family doctor for an assessment or a referral to an appropriate specialist. There are a variety of specialists, including adolescent medicine, who are specially trained to diagnose and treat disordered eating. Trying to address it on your own is often difficult and ineffective, notes Dr. Heinberg.

From the beginning, having family support is associated with better outcomes for patients with disordered eating. Family-based treatments are considered the most effective in treating adolescents and young adults. However, the involvement of a support system is very helpful for patients of any age.

Living With An Eating Disorder

Its healthy to watch what you eat and to exercise. What isnt healthy is worrying all the time about your weight and what you eat. People who have eating disorders do harmful things to their bodies because of their obsession about their weight. If it isnt treated, anorexia can cause the following health problems:

  • Stomach problems.
  • Irregular periods or no periods.
  • Fine hair all over the body, including the face.
  • Dry, scaly skin.
  • Cancer.

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But I Have A Normal Bmi

The assumption that someone with a normal BMI does not have an eating disorder is problematic because it can hinder a timely diagnosis and treatment for people who are struggling.

Just like looking at someones body does not give enough information to diagnose an eating disorder, neither does the BMI.

In fact, BMI wasnt even designed for individual diagnoses. Furthermore, it doesnt take into account the relative proportions of bone, muscle, and fat in the body. It is certainly not an indicator of health.

Although BMI can be used a way to diagnose an eating disorder, it really doesnt take into account the bigger picture.

Eating disorders are both mental and physical conditions that can affect bodies of all sizes.

The origins of eating disorders lie within a complex mix of biological and environmental factors.

Bodies affected by eating disorders dont always show huge signs of it. Most people with eating disorders are also exceptionally good at hiding their behaviors.

Is An Eating Disorder A Good Way To Lose Weight

If I have made myself throw up or tried to, does that mean I have an eating disorder?

Many people, especially children, teens, and those who fall into the young adult category, believe that adopting disordered eating habits is the key to helping them lose weight and achieve the figure theyve always wanted.

These beliefs are also reinforced by a lot of celebrities and fitness influencers on social media, who often tout disordered eating practices as being perfectly normal and healthy.

In reality, an eating disorder is not a good way to lose weight. Eating disorders can have serious, long-term ramifications for a persons health andself confidence.

As the National Eating Disorder Association points out, eating disorders can affect the cardiovascular system and put excessive stress on the heart. They can cause gastrointestinal issues, hormonal issues, and neurological issues, too.

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What Other Conditions Resemble Eating Disorders

This is another reason why you need a professional evaluation.

Other illnesses that affect eating behaviors and /or weight could resemble eating disorders such as cancer, HIV, hyperthyroidism.

Hormone disturbances such as Cushings disease or insulin-dependent diabetes, lead to increased appetite which may resemble binge-eating disorder.

Other problems may present similar symptoms to those of eating disorders. For example, someone with social anxiety disorder may avoid all social occasions because they fear interaction with others.

What other conditions may occur together with eating disorders?

Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric disorders that can occur together with eating disorders.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder and substance use disorders can also co-occur with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa.

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