Eating disorders are complex disorders which often affect physical and mental health, work, and relationships. They involve serious disturbances in eating behavior including extreme and unhealthy reduction of food intake or severe overeating and extreme concern about body shape or weight. The three most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder.
With anorexia having the highest mortality rate among all psychological disorders, we need to better understand these disorders themselves as well as the people they affect.
- 50% of teenage girls and 30% of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, vomiting, and taking laxatives to control their weight
- 25% of college-aged women engage in binging and purging methods
- 4 out of 10 individuals have either personally experienced an eating disorder or know someone who has
- 35% of normal dieters progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders
Signs and Symptoms
- In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting and control of food are becoming primary concerns
- Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or finding wrappers and containers indicating the consumption of large amounts of food
- Evidence of purging behaviors, including frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting or presence of wrappers or packages of laxatives or diuretics
- Excessive, rigid exercise regimens
- Withdrawal from usual friends and activities
- Genetics – the risk of developing an eating disorder is 50-80% determined by genetics
- Social factors – unrealistic pressures to obtain the “perfect” body, the media with its images of perfection and narrow definitions of beauty
- Psychological factors – substantial co-morbidity with other mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), low self-esteem, and feelings of lack of control
- Interpersonal factors – history of abuse, being teased for size or weight, traumatic life events and difficulty expressing feelings and emotions
How to help someone who is suffering
- Be aware – know the signs and symptoms of eating disorders
- Be mindful of your own attitudes and comments regarding food, weight, shape and fitness. Consider how they impact your own well-being and how you might be conveying them to others
- Respect the diversity of body sizes and shapes. Recognize that weight, like height, is inherited and that health is measured by many factors that are attainable at every size
- Be a critical consumer of media and teach others to do the same
- Celebrate positive messages in the media and express concern about advertisements that promote unrealistic standards or send negative body image messages
- Know the places in your community that provide help and support and encourage them to seek professional help. Please contact me for local resources or for more information on helping your loved one.
Struggling from an eating disorder?
Take a quick, 3-minute assessment from the National Eating Disorders Association to see if you’re at-risk.
If you’re struggling from an eating disorder, talk to someone – a trusted friend, colleague, or family member – and let them support you in getting professional help.
I regularly work with those affected by eating disorders. If you’d like more information about eating disorders or if you’re ready for counseling, please contact me.
firstname.lastname@example.org / +41 77 495 6152
References and further reading:
Brunch, Hilde (2001). The Golden Cage. Boston: Harvard University Press.
Eating disorder help (2016). Eating disorder statistics. Retrieved from http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/statistics-studies
Enns, Kimberly (2016). Eating disorders: it’s not our bodies that need changing. Retrieved from http://blog.ctrinstitute.com/eating-disorders-its-not-our-bodies-that-need-changing
National Eating Disorders Association (2016). Reaching out when concerned: how to help someone you care about. Retrieved from http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness (2013). What are eating disorders. Retrieved from http://www.allianceforeatingdisorders.com/portal/what-are-eating-disorders#.Vs3BfuaS_hV