Eating and Weight Disorders FAQs

What are the different types of eating disorders?

Eating disorders broadly cover a range of behaviors in which there is a disturbance in eating that leads to issues in physical, psychological and/or social functioning. In anorexia nervosa an individual believes they are overweight when they are actually underweight or low weight, which can lead to restrictions of food intake and/or other methods to prevent weight gain such as purging or compulsive exercise, possibly causing extreme weight loss. Bulimia nervosa is marked by a cycle of extreme dieting, episodes of uncontrolled overeating, and excessive measures to prevent weight gain such as purging or fasting. Binge eating disorder involves recurring episodes of uncontrolled overeating and no compensatory behaviors, often resulting in weight gain. Binge eating is different from overeating in that it tends to happen more often and it causes the person significant distress.

Additionally, people may struggle with some combination of the above mentioned disorders, purging disorder (purging behavior with shape and weight concerns without binge eating), pica (eating of non-food substances), rumination disorder (regurgitation of food), avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (avoidance of food without shape and weight concerns) and night eating syndrome.

What causes an eating disorder?

No one factor can be said to cause an eating disorder; these types of conditions typically result from a complicated combination of social, cultural, biological, and psychological aspects.

Do eating disorders affect men as well?

Yes. Of the approximately eight million Americans with an eating disorder, one million are men. Some males experience eating disorder symptoms similar to those in females, while others suffer from a condition called muscle dysmorphia, in which they perceive themselves to be not muscular enough and go to extremes to achieve a hypermuscular physique.

How do I recognize the signs of an eating disorder in a loved one?

Someone struggling with an eating disorder can exhibit warning behaviors such as extreme concerns about weight or shape, unexplained sudden weight loss or weight gain (binge eating disorder), or strange eating patterns or behaviors such as avoidance of eating in front of people, skipping meals, or disappearing into a bathroom after meals.

How do I talk to someone if I suspect they have an eating disorder?

People with eating disorders often resist help, possibly as a result of denial, shame, or worry that therapy could lead to weight gain. If you’re a parent of a child or teenager who is exhibiting warning signs, try statements such as, “I want to find help for you because I love you”.  Because of the nature of eating disorders, it is common that you may need to begin arranging treatment without your child’s cooperation in order to protect your child from life threatening complications from the illness. You can call a professional for more information to better understand the early warning signs. If you’re concerned a friend may have an eating disorder, try to discuss your concerns with them directly in private, identifying the behaviors that worry you and, if your friend is a child or adolescent, speak to an adult, like a teacher, guidance counselor or parent.

How do I control my eating disorder during the holidays?

The holidays can be a difficult time for many people, especially those that struggle with their eating behaviors. To the extent possible, maintain a regular, moderate eating pattern; for example, don’t try to compensate for a big holiday meal by eating significantly less before or after. It may also be helpful to talk about the holidays beforehand with your doctor or therapist to develop a plan for coping with any anticipated stress.

Why is it important to find treatment?

Eating disorders can lead to serious physical complications such as loss of menstrual periods and infertility, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, cardiac and kidney dysfunction, gastrointestinal difficulties, and dental deterioration. With anorexia and bulimia, such physiological complications can be fatal. Although these complications are severe, they can often be reversed with appropriate treatment. In addition to the physical effects of eating disorders, these illnesses often impact psychological and social functioning which can cause problems in important life areas, like relationships, work, school or hobbies. Treatment can help address both physical and emotional problems related to the eating disorder.

How are eating disorders treated?

Effective treatment can take the form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), family-based treatment (also known as the Maudsley Method), acceptance-based mirror exposure treatment, and interpersonal therapy (IPT).  When these treatments are not effective in an outpatient setting or if there is medical instability, treatment for eating disorders may involve hospitalization, residential, or intensive outpatient treatment.