When you become so preoccupied with food and weight issues that you find it harder and harder to focus on other aspects of your life, it may be an early sign of an eating disorder. Without treatment, eating disorders can take over a person’s life and lead to serious, potentially fatal medical complications.
Eating disorders are a group of related conditions that cause serious emotional and physical problems. Each condition involves extreme food and weight issues; however, each has unique symptoms that separate it from the others.
The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. As with other mental illnesses, there may be many causes, such as:
Certain factors may increase the risk of developing an eating disorder, including:
Symptoms vary, depending on the type of eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder are the most common eating disorders. Other eating disorders include rumination disorder and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. Red flags that may indicate an eating disorder include:
Often simply called anorexia, is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by an abnormally low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted perception of weight or shape. People with anorexia use extreme efforts to control their weight and shape, which often significantly interferes with their health and life activities.
Commonly called bulimia, is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder. When you have bulimia, you have episodes of bingeing and purging that involve feeling a lack of control over your eating. Many people with bulimia also restrict their eating during the day, which often leads to more binge eating and purging.
The essential feature of binge-eating disorder is regularly (at least once every week for more than 3 months) eat too much food (binging) and feel a lack of control over your eating. You may eat quickly or eat more food than intended, even when you're not hungry, and you may continue eating even long after you're uncomfortably full.
Rumination disorder is repeatedly and persistently regurgitating food after eating, but it's not due to a medical condition or another eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorder. Sometimes regurgitated food is re-chewed and re-swallowed or spit out.
Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder is characterized by failing to meet your minimum daily nutrition requirements because you don't have an interest in eating; you avoid food with certain sensory characteristics, such as color, texture, smell or taste; or you're concerned about the consequences of eating, such as fear of choking. Food is not avoided because of fear of gaining weight.
Treatment of an eating disorder generally includes a team approach. The team typically includes primary care providers, mental health professionals and dietitians — all with experience in eating disorders.Treatment depends on your specific type of eating disorder. But in general, it typically includes nutrition education, psychotherapy and medication. If your life is at risk, you may need immediate hospitalization.
Psychotherapy is a vital part of bipolar disorder treatment and can be provided in individual, family or group settings. Several types of therapy may be helpful. These include:
Medication can't cure an eating disorder. However, certain medications may help you control urges to binge or purge or to manage excessive preoccupations with food and diet. Drugs such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications may help with symptoms of depression or anxiety, which are frequently associated with eating disorders.
No matter what your weight, the members of your team can work with you to design a plan to help you achieve healthy eating habits.
If you have serious health problems, such as anorexia that has resulted in severe malnutrition, your doctor may recommend hospitalization. Some clinics specialize in treating people with eating disorders. Some may offer day programs, rather than full hospitalization. Specialized eating disorder programs may offer more intensive treatment over longer periods of time.
To improve your chances of success in overcoming your eating disorder, try to make these steps a part of your daily routine:
Don't skip therapy sessions and try not to stray from meal plans. Follow your doctor's recommendations on physical activity and exercise.
Talk to your doctor about appropriate vitamin and mineral supplements. If you're not eating well, chances are your body isn't getting all of the nutrients it needs, such as vitamin D or iron. However, getting most of your vitamins and minerals from food is typically recommended.
Resist urges to weigh yourself or check yourself in the mirror frequently. This may simply fuel your drive to maintain unhealthy habits.
Don't isolate yourself from caring family members and friends who want to see you get healthy and have your best interests at heart.
Although there's no sure way to prevent eating disorders, here are some strategies to help your child develop healthy-eating behaviors:
Family dining habits may influence the relationships children develop with food. Eating meals together gives you an opportunity to teach your child about the pitfalls of dieting and encourages eating a balanced diet in reasonable portions.
For example, there are numerous websites that promote dangerous ideas, such as viewing anorexia as a lifestyle choice rather than an eating disorder. It's crucial to correct any misperceptions like this and to talk to your child about the risks of unhealthy eating choices.
Cultivate and reinforce a healthy body image in your child, whatever his or her shape or size. Talk to your child about self-image and offer reassurance that body shapes can vary. Avoid criticizing your own body in front of your child. Messages of acceptance and respect can help build healthy self-esteem and resilience that will carry children through the rocky periods of the teen years.
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