About Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are quickly becoming a problem of epidemic proportions in America, with as many as 24 million individuals suffering from an eating disorder at any given time.
The exact cause of eating disorders varies from person to person; there are many known factors that influence the development of an eating disorder:
- By example – women are more likely to develop an eating disorder if their mother or sister has one
- Stress or trauma – patterns for an eating disorder can be brought on by stressful life changes or events
- Pervasive cultural pressure on women to be thin plays a significant role in diminishing self-esteem and creating an atmosphere for eating disorders to flourish
Regardless of the causes, eating disorders are dangerous and possibly fatal. In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Thus treatment is critically important.
How it feels
When you have an eating disorder, you don’t want anyone to know. Deep down there is something you need but you don’t feel like you can ask for it or even let anyone know you are hurting. Thoughts about food, weight, or body image are all-consuming. There is a feeling of worthlessness that makes it seem impossible to ask for help. After a while, the eating disorder becomes like a constant companion, one that tells you what to do, and one that you come to rely upon to keep you together. Giving up the eating disorder becomes like being asked to let go of a log you are holding onto in the middle of a raging river, far from shore, when you can’t swim, and trying to swim across the current to shore. It seems as though if you let go, you will surely drown.
There are three primary categories of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia and eating disorder not otherwise specified (ED-NOS).
- Anorexia nervosa is an obsessive preoccupation with weight loss and the action of eating. Sufferers may refuse to eat, restrict their caloric intake, and many engage in compulsive exercising. These behaviors usually result in extreme weight loss, hair loss, fertility issues, and high risk of organ failure. Anorexia is often characterized by drive for perfectionism and is often accompanied by depression, anxiety or substance abuse.
- Bulimia is characterized by a cycle of binging and purging, or self-induced vomiting. The cycle may also include overuse of laxatives and diet pills, excessive and compulsive exercise and periods of fasting. Bulimics may be able to maintain a normal weight despite their harmful behaviors. They often suffer form poor body image and low self-esteem. People who suffer with bulimia also tend to be secretive and hide their behaviors from family and friends.
- The Eating Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified, or ED-NOS, category includes those who struggle with unhealthy eating patterns but do not meet the specific requirements for anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Symptoms of ED-NOS include unhealthy use of laxative and diet pills, fasting, compulsive exercise, feelings of body dysmorphia, and occasional purging. Some may suffer from the symptoms of both bulimia and anorexia. Both disorders have elements of perfectionism, obsessiveness and are accompanied by feelings of depression or anxiety.
Medical treatment for any eating disorder is imperative and psychotherapy is a crucial component to treatment. At Therapy Today Counseling and Consulting our counselors are experienced in caring for and treating individuals suffering from these debilitating disorders. We can help with:
- Engaging with medical professionals to obtain physiological care, including nutritional counseling
- Addressing underlying psychological roots of the eating disorder
- Identifying unhealthy behaviors and creating new, adaptive patterns
- Assessing and treating presence of co-occurring depression and anxiety