Eating disorders are a group of serious conditions in which you're so preoccupied with food and weight that you can often focus on little else. The main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.
Eating disorders can cause serious physical problems and, at their most severe, can even be life-threatening. Most people with eating disorders are females, but males can also have eating disorders. An exception is binge-eating disorder, which appears to affect almost as many males as females.
Treatments for eating disorders usually involve psychotherapy, nutrition education, family counseling, medications and hospitalization.
Eating disorders symptoms vary with the particular type of eating disorder.
Anorexia signs and symptoms may include:
Bulimia signs and symptoms may include:
Symptoms of binge-eating disorder may include:
When to see a doctor
Urging a loved one to seek treatment
Keep in mind, however, that in children it's sometimes hard to tell what's an eating disorder and what's simply a whim, a new fad, or experimentation with a vegetarian diet or other eating styles. In addition, many girls and sometimes boys go on diets to lose weight, but stop dieting after a short time. If you're a parent or guardian, be careful not to mistake occasional dieting with an eating disorder. On the other hand, be alert for eating patterns and beliefs that may signal unhealthy behavior, as well as peer pressure that may trigger eating disorders.
Red flags that may indicate an eating disorder include:
The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. As with other mental illnesses, there may be many causes. Possible causes of eating disorders include:
Certain situations and events might increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. These risk factors may include:
Eating disorders cause a wide variety of complications, some of them life-threatening. The more severe or long lasting the eating disorder, the more likely you are to experience serious complications. Complications may include:
Preparing for your appointment
Treatment of an eating disorder generally includes a team approach comprised of medical providers, mental health providers and dietitians, all with experience in eating disorders.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointments, and what you might expect from your doctor and other health providers.
What you can do
Some potential questions you might want to ask your doctor or other health care provider include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask, don't hesitate to ask additional questions that may occur to you during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Eating disorders are diagnosed based on signs, symptoms and eating habits. When doctors suspect someone has an eating disorder, they typically run many tests or perform exams. These can help pinpoint a diagnosis and also check for related complications. You may see both a medical doctor and a mental health provider for a diagnosis.
Treatments and drugs
Eating disorder treatment depends on your specific type of eating disorder. But in general, it typically includes psychotherapy, nutrition education and medication. If your life is at risk, you may need immediate hospitalization.
Family-based therapy is the only effective treatment for children and adolescents with eating disorders. This type of therapy begins with the assumption that the person with the eating disorder is no longer capable of making sound decisions regarding his or her health and needs help from the family. An important part of family-based therapy is that your family is involved in making sure that your child or other family member is following healthy-eating patterns and is restoring weight. This type of therapy can help encourage support from concerned family members.
Weight restoration and nutrition education
Lifestyle and home remedies
When you have an eating disorder, taking care of your health needs often isn't one of your priorities. But proper self-care can help you feel better during and after treatment and help maintain your overall health.
Try to make these steps a part of your daily routine:
Usually, when people turn to alternative medicine it's to improve their health, but for people with eating disorders this isn't always the case. Alternative medicine treatments have both negative and positive consequences when it comes to eating disorders.
Treatments generally considered safe that may help improve your mood and reduce stress and anxiety include:
Coping and support
In addition to getting professional treatment for your eating disorder, you can also follow these coping skills:
Although there's no sure way to prevent eating disorders, some steps may help prevent an eating disorder in your loved ones:
Last Updated: 2012-02-08
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