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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

  • Feb 01, 2019
Eating Disorders, Weight-Shaming and “Clean” Eating

Eating disorders affect all kinds of people: women, men, young and old and from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Many factors likely contribute to developing eating disorders, including a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors. Having a close relative with an eating disorder or a history of dieting are risk factors. High levels of body image dissatisfaction and setting unrealistically high expectations for oneself (perfectionism) also increase the risk

  • Sep 07, 2018
Eating Disorders in Teens: Tips for Parents

Eating disorders involve persistent eating behaviors that are harmful to a person’s physical and mental health. Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, can also negatively impact a person’s relationships and daily activities

  • Dec 12, 2017
Online Mental Health Screenings: A Potential First Step

Several organizations provide brief online screenings for depression, anxiety, PTSD and other mental health conditions. More than one million people took screenings through the Mental Health America site alone in 2016.

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2019 NEDA Regional Conference
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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

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Helena’s Story

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.

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Have a Story of Your Own to Share?

Editor's Choice

DEC 9, 2018

Orthorexia: When 'clean eating' goes too far

CTV News-13

What started out as a desire to kick her sugar habit turned into an unhealthy obsession for Abbey Sharp. As a teenager, Sharp developed an “irrational fear of anything that did not fit within my narrow definition of what I thought was healthy for me,” she told CTV News. Eventually, she stopped eating many foods, which meant avoiding meals with family and friends.

NOV 29, 2018

To Treat Eating Disorders, It Sometimes Takes Two

New York Times

Mr. Pavlus’s reaction is echoed by many romantic partners of someone with an eating disorder, many of whom — though certainly not all — are women. Partners often want to help, but simply don’t know how. Or else they have no idea there’s a problem, or might not recognize its severity. Because the symptoms of anorexia nervosa, bulimia or binge eating disorder can be easy to miss, even if they’re accompanied by drastic weight loss or a decrease in emotional or sexual intimacy.

NOV 16, 2018

Ten People Who have Eating Disorders Share What Recovery Looks Like

Self

It’s easy to assume that recovery from an eating disorder implies—poof!—those harmful behaviors or negative thoughts and emotions have ended, and the person never has to deal with them again. But, just like with any other mental health condition (be it depression or OCD) recovery from an eating disorder is not black and white. Everyone’s recovery story, and even their definition of “recovery,” is unique and personal.

Resources

Additional Resources and Organizations

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 Reviewed

Ranna Parekh, M.D., M.P.H.
 January 2017