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Help With Eating Disorders

Curated and updated for the community by APA

Eating disorders are illnesses in which the people experience severe disturbances in their eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. People with eating disorders typically become pre-occupied with food and their body weight.

See definition, symptoms, & treatment

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  • Apr 19, 2017
Self-Advocacy Through Power Statements

Using “power statements” can help people with serious mental illness clarify and communicate their personal goals for medication and treatment, according to a new study. A power statement is a short, self-advocacy statement prepared by a patient based on a template. The study found that people with serious mental illness typically view medications not only as a way to address symptoms, but as a means to pursue meaningful life goals.

  • Apr 06, 2017
Targeting Pre-Teens to Fight Mental Health Stigma

The stigma, prejudice and discrimination of mental illness can be a major barrier for many people living with mental illness seeking and getting the help they need. It can make people avoid disclosing a mental health condition at work over concerns of being treated differently or even losing their job. Internalizing these negative stereotypes and perceptions (self-stigma) can further contribute to challenges.

  • Mar 31, 2017
Taming Triggers for Better Mental Health

You may have heard the phrase “trigger warning” to joke about a person’s perceived inability to deal with difficult subjects or adverse opinions. When it comes to mental health, learning about triggers can be an important step on the path to wellness.

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Are there some common warning signs of eating disorders?

There is no one sign of an eating disorder, however there are red flags. These can include excessive “fat, weight or calorie talk,” a pattern of eating a limited choice of low-calorie food or a pattern of occasional binge eating of calorie-dense foods. People with anorexia nervosa may excessively exercise or excessively stand, pace or fidget. Affected individuals may severely limit the amount of calories they consume or may avoid weight gain following meals by inducing vomiting or abusing laxative, diuretic and diet pills. Feeling self-conscious about one’s eating behavior is common. Affected individuals often avoid social eating settings and eat alone. More

What causes an eating disorder?

There is no single cause of an eating disorder. We know that genetics play a large role, but genetic vulnerability is only part of the story. Environment plays a role too, especially in triggering onset, which often occurs in adolescence. Pressure to diet or weight loss related to a medical condition can be the gateway to anorexia nervosa or bulimia. For those who are genetically vulnerable to anorexia nervosa, once they lose the first five to 10 lbs, dieting becomes increasingly compelling and rewarding. Looked at another way, if eating disorders were the result solely of social pressure for thinness we would expect eating disorder rates to have increased as obesity has in the past few decades, yet anorexia nervosa and bulimia remain relatively rare and often cluster in families. More

How can I best help and support someone who has been diagnosed with an eating disorder?

Treatment for an eating disorder is challenging. It involves interrupting behaviors that have become driven and compelling. Recovery takes a team, which includes family, friends and other social supports, as well as medical and mental health professionals. Be empathic, but clear. List signs or behaviors you have noticed and are concerned about. Help locate a treatment provider and offer to go with your friend or relative to an evaluation. Be prepared that the affected individual may be uncertain about seeking treatment. Treatment is effective, many are able to achieve full recovery and the vast majority will improve with expert care. Treatment assists affected individuals to change what they do. It helps them normalize their eating and reframe the irrational thoughts that sustain eating disordered behaviors. Food is central to many social activities and the practice of eating meals with supportive friends and family is an important step in recovery. More

We tend to hear about young women and eating disorders, but are there other groups of people that are more often affected by eating disorders?

Eating disorders do not discriminate and can affect anyone. Although they are most common in young women, it is not unusual for older women to have an eating disorder. Some have had one all their life, others were only mildly affected until some life event triggers clinical worsening – a stressor, physical illness or a co-occurring psychiatric illness, such as depression or anxiety. Recent evidence strongly suggests that anxiety disorders, especially social anxiety disorder, and obsessive compulsive personality traits increase individual vulnerability to an eating disorder. Eating disorders occur in men too. An estimated 10 percent of people with anorexia nervosa and bulimia and a third or more of people with binge eating disorder are male. More

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About the Expert:

Angela Guarda, M.D.
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Director, Johns Hopkins Eating Disorders Program
The Johns Hopkins University

Helena’s Story

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Helena was a 16-year-old girl who lived at home with her parents and younger sister. Throughout her teenage years, she had been a normal weight but she worried a great deal about her body weight and shape. She often compared her body weight with that of other girls and women she met or saw — and then judged herself as too heavy. More

Have a Story of Your Own to Share?

Editor's Choice

FEB 21, 2017

What You Need to Know About Eating Disorders

EBONY.com

Contrary to popular belief, Black people do suffer with bulimia, anorexia and binge eating. Although anorexia and bulimia are often believed to be “White girls’ problems,” experts insist otherwise. “Eating disorders simply do not discriminate based on your race, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status or sex,” says Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D., founding director of the University of North Carolina Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders.

FEB 17, 2017

Groups work to ease the path to recovery for those with eating disorders

Tampabay.com

Cherie Monarch, a Tarpon Springs mother and business owner, has been heavily involved in advocacy for those affected by eating disorders. One of her daughters was diagnosed with anorexia at age 15; it continued into her college years. Getting her into life-saving treatment and eventually into recovery was a long, difficult process. She turned the experience into a crusade to help others.

JAN 22, 2017

Many women with eating disorders do recover, study finds

Chicago Tribune

At sometime in their life, an estimated 20 million U.S. women will have an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. New research suggests that nearly two-thirds of these women recover from these eating disorders — though in some cases it took more than a decade for them to get better.

Resources

National Eating Disorders Association


Mental Health America


National Alliance on Mental Illness


National Institute on Mental Health


Screening for Mental Health, Inc.


Overeaters Anonymous


Renfrew Center Foundation


Eating Disorder Information and Referral Center

Physician Review By:

Ranna Parekh, M.D., M.P.H.
May 2015