Eating disorders affect nearly 5% of the population, most prevalent in children and young adults. While the cause of eating disorders is not understood, many studies have identified alterations of brain structure and function in individuals with this condition.
What follows will be a discussion about the most common types of eating disorders and their characteristics. In addition, we’ll outline some of the associated risk factors and treatments of these disorders.
What are Eating Disorders?
The definition of eating disorders is quite broad, accounting for several different types with differing symptoms; however, eating disorders are classified as mental health conditions involving persistent behaviors surrounding harmful eating habits. These destructive eating habits directly cause other complications associated with the health and social well-being of individuals with this condition.
Often eating disorders develop in association with other mental illnesses and psychiatric disorders such as mood and anxiety disorders, OCD, and substance-abuse problems.
Symptoms vary depending on the type of eating disorder, yet some universal warning signs can be noted. These include fluctuations in weight, intense preoccupation with body image, poor eating habits, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, mood swings, constipation, malnutrition, and generally poor health.
Types of Eating Disorders
There are several types of eating disorders that have certain characteristics; however, there are three main eating disorders that are most prevalent. They are binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is characterized by a sheer lack of control when eating. Reasons for binge eating are typically emotional in nature, including feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, or boredom.
Those that have binge eating disorders also do not try to control their weight with dieting or exercise. They often eat very large amounts to the point of being uncomfortable, and sometimes they eat when they aren’t even hungry. This disorder is seen more frequently in women than men, and they are usually in their early 20’s when the condition develops.
Symptoms and DSM-5 criteria of Binge Eating Disorder include recurring episodes of binge eating in large amounts, lack of control, and persistent feelings of shame and guilt.
Perhaps the most commonly known eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, is characterized by extreme weight loss, distorted perceptions of body image, and an overly thin appearance. Anorexia has the potential to develop into a life-threatening condition. This disorder is seen more frequently in women than men, and they are usually around age 18 when the condition develops.
Symptoms and DSM-5 criteria of anorexia include restrictive eating habits, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, fear of weight gain, body dysmorphia, and an intense desire to be thin.
Bulimia, another commonly known eating disorder, can be characterized by the vicious habitual cycle of binge eating followed by purging. This behavior can lead to complications such as dehydration, electrolyte disturbance, damage to the esophagus, and pancreatitis. Untreated bulimia is potentially life-threatening.
Symptoms and DSM-5 criteria of bulimia include recurring episodes of binge eating, recurring episodes of purging, low self-esteem associated with body dysmorphia, and fear of weight gain.
Other eating disorders include pica, rumination disorder, restrictive food intake disorder, body dysmorphia, and other specified feeding and eating disorders.
Associated Conditions and Risk Factors
Individuals with eating disorders often can develop associated conditions, and the more severe the eating disorder, the more likely these conditions are to develop.
The following are the most commonly associated conditions seen in individuals with eating disorders:
- Major Depressive Disorder
- Anxiety Disorders
- Suicidal Thoughts
- Substance Abuse Disorders
- Stunted Social and Biological Development
- Social Disruption or Destruction
Individuals who experience the condition of an eating disorder are more likely to have other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Below are the most common risk factors associated with eating disorders:
- Family History of Eating Disorders
- Presence of Other Mental Illnesses
- Extreme Weight Loss and Dieting
- Body Dysmorphia
- Environmental Stress
- Low Self-Esteem
Treatment of Eating Disorders
Treatment of eating disorders involves counseling about nutrition and cognitive behavioral therapy. In some eating disorders, treatment with medication is combined with behavioral therapy and can include treatment with medication such as Prozac.
Nutritional and therapeutic strategies include but are not limited to education surrounding healthy eating habits and nutrition, open communication to instill confidence and self-esteem, implementation of healthy lifestyle habits, and cognitive behavioral therapy with a mental health professional.
Because eating disorders are often misunderstood and made out to be less severe than they actually are, it’s not surprising that they don’t get the attention they deserve. That’s why it’s important to learn about these disorders and be able to recognize the symptoms and know the potential complications.
As a mental illness, eating disorders require comprehensive treatment, which involves professional therapy that includes nutritional assessment and cognitive behavioral therapy. If untreated, an eating disorder can subsequently become life-threatening. Therefore, it’s imperative for the individual to seek professional help at the earliest possible time.