Eating disorders are about much more than food.  Rather, these damaging behaviors are usually ways people deal with uncomfortable or painful emotions.

Restricting food, overeating or purging are ways some people deal with sadness, anger, loneliness, feelings of helplessness or as a way to feel in control. Individuals may follow rigid diets, secretly gorge on food, throw up after meals or obsessively count calories.   It is the negative thoughts and feelings that trigger the damaging behaviors.

Types of Eating Disorders

The most common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and binge eating.

  • Anorexia – involves restricting caloric intake out of an intense fear of becoming fat. While individuals appear underweight or even emaciated, they do not believe they are thin enough. They also may control their weight with over exercising, diet pills or purging.
  • Bulimia – involves a destructive cycle of binging and purging.  Individuals will go on an eating binge, then purge the calories by vomiting, exercising, fasting or taking laxatives.
  • Binge Eating– involves compulsively overeating and consuming thousands of calories in a short period of time.  The binge eater feels guilt and shame, but is unable to stop eating even when painfully full.

Warning Signs

Many people worry about their weight, what they eat and how they look especially teenagers and young adults.  People with eating disorders will hide the problem so be aware of the warning signs.

  • Preoccupation with body or weight
  • Obsession with calories, food or nutrition
  • Constant dieting, even when thin
  • Rapid, unexplained weight loss or weight gain
  • Taking laxatives, diet pills, prescription stimulants or even illegal drugs to eat less
  • Compulsive exercising
  • Throwing up frequently
  • Fasting, skipping meals or making excuses to get out of eating
  • Avoiding social situations that involve food
  • Going to the bathroom right after meals
  • Eating alone, at night, or in secret
  • Hoarding high-calorie food

Helping Someone With an Eating Disorder

If you notice signs of an eating disorder, it is important to talk with your friend or family member because the disorder will only get worse without treatment, and physical and emotional damage can be severe.  It may take some time before they are willing to admit to having a problem.  Lecturing, getting upset or issuing ultimatums won’t help. Instead, make it clear that you care about their health and happiness and you’ll continue to be there for him or her.

Talking to a friend or family member about your concerns

  • Share your concerns in a loving and non-confrontational way.
  • Avoid critical or accusatory statements.
  • Focus on specific behaviors that worry you. Share your memories of times when you were concerned about their eating or exercise.
  • Avoid conflicts or a battle of the wills. If they refuse to acknowledge the problem, leave yourself open and available as a supportive listener.
  • Avoid placing shame, blame or guilt on them regarding their actions. Use “I” statements like, “I’m concerned because you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch.” Or, “It makes me afraid to hear you vomiting.” Avoid “you” statements like, “You need to eat.” or, “You’re acting irresponsibly.”
  • Avoid giving simple solutions. For example, “If you’d just stop, then everything would be fine!”

Treatment

While there are many treatment options for eating disorders, the right approach depends on the patient’s symptoms, issues, strengths and severity of the disorder. Treatments must address both physical and psychological aspects.  Often, a combination of therapy, nutritional counseling and group support works best.  In some cases, residential treatment or hospitalization may be necessary.

If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder, contact one of the counselors at iTherapy.com to discuss your concerns.

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