Eating and weight disorders are serious but treatable mental illnesses that affect how you think about food and your body. Eating disorders are not lifestyle choices, but are diagnosed medical conditions. If you have an eating disorder, you may also suffer from mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression.
Eating disorders can affect anyone of any age, gender, race, or ethnicity. If you have an eating disorder, you often cannot stop thinking about food and your body weight, and may find it hard to function in daily life. A resulting lack of nutrition can also lead to damage in other parts of the body, such as the heart, digestive system, bones, teeth, and mouth, and can also cause other diseases.
Researchers are not sure what causes eating disorders. It is most likely a combination of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors.
Some of the potential biological factors:
- Irregular hormones
- Nutritional deficiencies
Some psychological factors:
- Impulsive temperament
- Difficulty communicating negative emotions
- Difficulty resolving conflict
- Negative body image
- Non-suicidal self-injury disorder
- Perfectionistic personality
- Poor self-esteem
- Substance abuse
Environmental contributors include:
- Cultural or peer pressure or bullying
- Family stressors or loss
- Family and childhood abuse or trauma
- Professions or careers that promote being thin, such as ballet, modeling, and long-distance running
Types of Eating Disorders
There are several types of eating disorders. The most common are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder. Different disorders have different symptoms. At the Center of Excellence in Eating and Weight Disorders we treat the full range of eating and feeding disorders in children, adolescents, and adults, including:
- Anorexia nervosa
- Binge eating disorder
- Bulimia nervosa
- Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder
- Rumination disorder
- Other specified feeding or eating disorders including pica, rumination disorder and avoidant intake disorder.
It is difficult to know if someone suffers from an eating disorder by appearance alone, as people with eating disorders can be under weight, overweight, or normal weight. It can be easy to miss the early signs of an eating disorder, but it is important to get diagnosed by a medical professional as soon as possible.
The exact symptoms vary from one eating disorder to another; however, you should seek medical care or consult if you or someone you love:
- Becomes upset or anxious if he or she cannot exercise
- Displays loss of tooth enamel (may be a sign of repeated vomiting)
- Eats in secret and with shame
- Regularly eats much more food in a meal or snack than is considered normal
- Exercises excessively, especially without increasing calorie intake
- Expressing depression, disgust, shame, or guilt about eating
- Follows a very restrictive diet
- Focuses excessively on healthy or “clean” eating
- Frequently checks the mirror for body flaws
- Has calluses on the knuckles from inducing vomiting
- Has unusual eating rituals, such as cutting food into very small pieces
- Leaves the table during meals to use the toilet
- Makes his or her own meals rather than eating what the rest of the family eats
- Repeatedly eating large amounts of sweets or high-fat foods
- Skips meals or makes excuses for not eating
- Talks often about losing weight
- Uses dietary supplements, laxatives, or herbal products for weight loss
- Withdrawing from normal social activities
- Worries constantly about gaining weight
Different eating disorders need different types of treatments. In general, we use one or more forms of psychotherapy to help. Some conditions benefit from medication as well. We will also work with you to help you develop healthy eating habits.
In addition, you can also cultivate certain helpful habits:
- Avoid skipping meals, as that can lead to binge eating
- Consider joining a support group
- Develop hobbies or activities you enjoy that can help you forget bingeing and purging
- Identify situations that can trigger thoughts or behaviors that contribute to bulimia
- Look for positive role models to help boost your self-esteem
- Think about what a healthy weight is for your body
Helping a Friend or Family Member with an Eating Disorder
You may feel at a loss about how to best help a friend or family member with an eating disorder. You want to help but you may not know how. Here are some ways you might be able to help:
- Ask what you can do to help
- Listen to the person
- Schedule regular family mealtimes
- Don’t comment on shape or weight
Why Mount Sinai?
The Center of Excellence in Eating and Weight Disorders at Mount Sinai offers exemplary care for eating disorders. Our specialists have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating these conditions and are at the forefront of research. Our team has been instrumental in developing the most advanced techniques. At the same time, our care is personalized, comprehensive, and compassionate. We know that families are an important part of the recovery process and we make sure to include your family members in your care plan.