An eating disorder is a mental illness — not a lifestyle choice. Eating disorders are physically and emotionally destructive, and can become chronic, debilitating, and even life-threatening. Early diagnosis and intervention may enhance recovery.
People who suffer with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating often hide their mental illness from those they love, essentially putting their lives at risk. One indication that someone suffers from an eating disorder is their obsession with weight or body type so severe it leads to altering eating habits.
If someone suspects themselves or someone they love of suffering from an eating disorder, it is imperative that they seek help.
Eating disorders frequently appear during the teen years or young adulthood, but may also develop during childhood or later in life. These disorders affect both genders, but women are more susceptible.
Researchers have found that eating disorders are caused by a complex interaction of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors.
The foundations of treatment, which is often tailored to individual needs, are adequate nutrition, reduction of excessive exercise, and the discontinuation of purging behaviors. In addition to individual psychotherapy, clients can choose to participate in group or family counseling. Other solutions include hiring a professional to monitor medical care, counseling, and medication, if necessary.
Family-based therapy is recommended for adolescents, especially if the parents assume responsibility for feeding their child. It is very effective in helping adolescents gain weight if they suffer from anorexia, as well as improve eating habits and their overall mood.
To reduce or eliminate binge eating and purging behaviors, people may undergo Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, another type of psychotherapy that helps a person learn how to identify distorted or unhelpful thinking patterns, and recognize and change inaccurate beliefs.
If medication is prescribed, people who live with an eating disorder seem to benefit most when taking antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers.
Anorexia is classified as the leading cause of death among the three main eating disorders. People who live with this eating disorder are likely to end up in the hospital or die due to complications associated with starvation. Others die of suicide.
People with anorexia may see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight. They are often very thin, but weigh themselves repeatedly and eventually restrict the amount of food they eat. Because of this, they are often tired and have a lower body temperature, rendering them cold all of the time.
It isn’t only the mental aspect that wears on clients. Physically, people can become anemic and their muscle mass begins to waste away. Their skin yellows, nails become brittle, and in some cases they experience rapid hair growth all over the body.
Risks to health include infertility, severe constipation, a drop in body temperature, low blood pressure, and inadequate respiration and pulse, which damages the structure and function of the heart. This leads to brain damage and failure of multiple organs.
When it comes to children, therapists often involve the parents. In cases of anorexia, therapists use an approach where parents assume the responsibility of making sure they are eating balanced meals on a daily basis.
When someone is bulimic, they eat an unusual amount of food and, following their binge, force themselves to vomit, take an excessive amount of laxatives, fast, or exercise to a point where it is unhealthy.
Unlike anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia usually maintain what is considered a healthy or relatively normal weight.
Because of the amount of stomach acid that is excreted, some of the most common physical symptoms of bulimia are worn tooth enamel and tooth decay. Others will suffer from chronic sore throat, swollen salivary glands, acid reflux disorder, intestinal distress, and severe dehydration. The most severe is an electrolyte imbalance, which can lead to stroke or heart attack because there isn’t an equal balance of sodium, calcium, potassium, and other minerals in their body.
Binge Eating Disorder
Anorexia and bulimia are both eating disorders that result in the person losing a dramatic amount of weight. However, someone with a binge eating disorder will often gain enough weight to be considered obese. Rather than restricting food or eating too much only to purge it out of their bodies, this disorder creates a mindset in which a person literally loses control over their eating.
Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time in order to become uncomfortably full is one sign that someone suffers from this illness. They often eat when they are already full or not hungry, and do so in secret to avoid embarrassment. This behavior is triggered when that person is feels distressed, ashamed, or guilty about how they eat. After a certain amount of time, they try to overcome their disorder by frequently dieting, only to rarely lose any weight.
To reduce or eliminate binge eating and purging behaviors, people may undergo Cognitive Based Therapy to learn how to identify distorted or unhelpful thinking patterns, and recognize and change inaccurate beliefs.
Although women are more susceptible to eating disorders, men are more at risk of muscle dysmorphia, a disorder marked by an extreme concern with becoming more muscular.
If you'd like to talk to someone about eating disorders, please contact us.
Michaela Bucchianeri, PhD, LP
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" - Mary Oliver
I love this question because I believe it possesses a sort of magical property. In an instant, it shakes loose all the constraints and assumptions about how things must be, and invites you to pause and consider how they might be.
What might your life be like if you weren't consumed with fear, worry, or shame?
What might your life be like if your time and energy were available for the people and interests that truly lit you up?
What might your life be like tomorrow if you took one small (but bold) step today?
Questions like this create a sense of urgency. They stir up emotion. They spark action.
Therapy isn’t so different. If you’re living with anxiety or body image and eating concerns, know this: Those sensitivities and insecurities that keep you feeling stuck? They’re strengths and resilience in disguise. When your energy is finally freed up to use how you wish, there will be no stopping you.
Therapy works best when the latest, tested tools are shared between a client ready for change and a therapist who knows and understands what that feels like.
It’s a bit like walking the Myers-Briggs line between Thinking and Feeling. And you’re not walking alone.
Thoughts + feelings.
Brain + heart.
They don’t always agree. So, if right now both are telling you to take the next step, it might be time to listen.Education:
- PhD in Clinical Psychology, University of Notre Dame
- Postdoctoral residency in Eating Disorder Treatment, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center
- Postdoctoral fellowships in Eating Disorders Research & Child/Adolescent Primary Care, University of Minnesota
Clinical experience in hospital, community mental health, and university counseling settingsSpecialties:
- Body image/weight concerns
- Career changes/discernment
- Chronic pain
- Disordered eating assessment/referral
- Emotional eating/binge-eating
- Health behavior change
- Life transitions
- Postpartum anxiety/adjustment
- Self-care/stress management
- Work-life harmony