What Is an Eating Disorder?

What Is an Eating Disorder? [Infographic]

What Is an Eating Disorder?

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An eating disorder is an illness that disrupts a person’s eating behaviors and can cause a person to become preoccupied with food, food intake, and/or their body weight. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate associated with any mental illness, and at least 30 million Americans deal with an eating disorder, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

What Causes an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders have been associated with a variety of potential causes, and a combination of some or all of these factors is believed to contribute to an eating disorder.

  • Biology: Studies have shown that individuals sometimes have brain circuitry variants that may contribute to an eating disorder.
  • Genetics: Research indicates that certain genetic variations may contribute to an eating disorder, and an individual with a family history of eating disorders is seven to 12 times more likely than others to develop an eating disorder.
  • Personality: People who are prone to obsessive thinking, harm avoidance, and impulsivity have an increased likelihood of developing an eating disorder.
  • Trauma: Physical and/or sexual abuse or other traumatic events may make a person more susceptible to shame, guilt, and other feelings, which can lead to an eating disorder.

What Are the Types of Eating Disorders?

Common eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia Nervosa: Causes severely low body weight, a distorted view of weight, and extreme fear of gaining weight; people struggling with anorexia are typically below a healthy weight.
  • Bulimia Nervosa: Leads a person to eat large amounts of food (binge), then purge to eliminate extra calories; people struggling with bulimia may be within a normal weight range.
  • Binge-Eating Disorder: Causes recurring episodes in which an individual eats large amounts of food and feels unable to stop eating.
  • Pica: Involves craving or chewing ice, clay, soil, and other items that have no nutritional value.
  • Avoidant or Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): Results in highly selective eating habits, interrupted eating patterns, or both; ARFID is similar to anorexia, but it does not cause distress related to body shape or size or an extreme fear of gaining weight.

What Are the Symptoms of an Eating Disorder?

A person dealing with an eating disorder may display one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Food rituals
  • Uncomfortable eating around others
  • Skipping meals or consuming small portions at meals
  • Preoccupation with weight and/or diet
  • Mood swings
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Gastrointestinal issues like constipation and/or stomach cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle weakness

How to Treat an Eating Disorder

Common eating disorder treatments include:

  • Medication: Antidepressant and/or anti-anxiety medications are sometimes used to help patients manage their eating disorders.
  • Psychotherapy: Talk therapy allows a patient to discuss his or her eating disorder thoughts and feelings with a mental health counselor and develop coping strategies.
  • Dietary Changes: A nutritionist can help an eating disorder patient create and implement a balanced, nutritional diet.

Explore Eating Disorder Treatment Options Today

To learn more about eating disorder treatment, please contact Achieve Medical Center online or call us at (858) 427-5060.

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