Eating Disorders

What is Eating Disorder?

Eating Disorders: Types, Treatments & How To Get Help

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Eating, and our relationship with food, fulfills a basic physiological need for everyone. For many, eating when hungry comes naturally and effortlessly. These people respond to their hunger cues by eating and providing their bodies with nutrition and energy. For some, eating can consist of harmful patterns and moderate levels of distress often resulting in restriction, binging, or purging. In these cases, individuals may be suffering from an eating disorder.

There is not one isolated cause for the development of an eating disorder, but rather a broad range of contributing factors including genetics, family history, and combined social and cultural factors. Fortunately, effective treatment options are available to assist those who suffer from an unhealthy relationship with food and disordered eating.
Types of Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder
A common mental health condition where people experience regular, excessive anxiety. Unlike other anxiety disorders where fears are easily identified, people living with GAD have multiple fears or may be unable to identify specific causes of their anxiety.

Social Anxiety Disorder
A common condition that's characterized by excessive fear of certain social situations and specific concerns of being negatively judged by others. Often, social anxiety leads to avoidance of these situations which negatively impacts a person’s ability to function and their quality of life.
Panic Disorder
A condition characterized by the intense fear of having another panic attack. Panic attacks feature extreme symptoms of anxiety that come on suddenly and generally last several minutes. Panic disorder leads to avoidant behavior which disrupts a person’s normal routine and daily life.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
A mental health condition defined by intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors ( (aka obsessions and compulsions). Those living with OCD experience intense anxiety about the nature of their obsessions and engage in compulsive behaviors to alleviate their distress. Reduction in the frequency and severity of symptoms is possible with therapy and/or medication.


Acute Stress Disorder
Develops following a traumatic experience with symptoms including upsetting memories, avoidance of trauma reminders, and impairment of normal routines and functioning. Acute stress disorder is diagnosed when symptoms occur directly after the trauma but resolve within one month. Acute stress disorder is a diagnosis used to help clinicians flag people at risk of developing PTSD following a traumatic experience like an accident, injury, or assault. Early treatment may slow or stop this progression to PTSD.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
People feel an excessive and overwhelming amount of anxiety when separated, or when anticipating being separated, from a parent, spouse, child, etc. The level of anxiety experienced is not developmentally appropriate, is persistent, and can cause significant distress sometimes impairing social, school or work functioning. It is quite common and onset often occurs in children and adolescents. Treated with talk therapy and/or medication.
Types of Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are characterized by a continual disruption of eating or eating-related behavior that results in altered consumption of food. These altered eating patterns are harmful in nature and create significant impairment in both physical and mental health, as well as daily functioning.1 Four common eating disorders include: avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID); anorexia nervosa; bulimia nervosa; and binge eating disorder

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder is a disturbance in eating often triggered by lack of interest in eating or food. One may avoid specific food items due to sensory characteristics of the food such as temperature, color, smell, or texture. A persistent concern with potential negative consequences of eating of specific foods may also be present such as fear of vomiting or choking.

These aversions to food contribute to inadequate nutrition and the body’s energy needs are not met, often manifesting as weight loss in adults and failure to meet growth expectations for children. Significant nutritional deficiencies or medical concerns may also be present and one may develop a dependency on supplements in an attempt to meet nutritional needs. When someone is struggling with ARFID they will often have difficulty engaging in daily activities and relationships with others due to these eating behaviors.

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder is equally common in male and female infants and children, although when co-occurring with autism spectrum disorder, is more prominent in males. Research has also suggested that those suffering from ARFID tend to be younger and male, compared to other eating disorders.

Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by persistent restriction of food, combined with an intense fear of being fat or gaining weight. There is a disturbance of body-image and irrational thoughts pertaining to one’s body shape and size. Significant effort is also utilized to engage in behaviors that interfere with weight gain such as excessive exercise and calorie counting. The presence of these characteristics results in significantly low body weight.

There are two subtypes of anorexia nervosa, restricting type and binge-eating/purging type. Restricting type describes when someone is primarily engaging in dieting, fasting, and excessive exercise whereas binge-eating/purging type consists of eating significantly larger quantities of food in a short period of time compared to most people followed by vomiting or use of laxatives or enemas.

Approximately .3%-.4% of females and .1% of males will suffer from anorexia nervosa at any given time. Some studies have suggested a higher prevalence of anorexia nervosa where .9% – 2% of females and .1% and.3% of males will develop anorexia.

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by recurrent incidences of binge eating consisting of eating significantly larger quantities of food in a short period of time compared to most people. This is combined with an overwhelming sense of lack of control where one does not feel they have the ability to stop eating or control how much they eat.

Binge-eating typically continues until the individual is physically uncomfortable or in pain. Binge-eating is then followed by attempts to offset the eating behavior in order to prevent weight gain. These behaviors are termed purge behaviors and may include vomiting, use of laxatives or enemas, fasting, or excessive exercise. One’s self-evaluation is also unjustifiably influenced by body shape and weight.

Some studies have suggested a higher prevalence of bulimia nervosa where 1.1% – 4.6% of females and .1% and .5% of males will develop bulimia. Bulimia nervosa commonly begins in late adolescence or young adulthood. Onset prior to puberty or after the age of 40 is uncommon.

Similar to bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating consisting of eating significantly larger quantities of food in a short period of time compared to most people. This is combined with distress and an overwhelming sense of lack of control where one does not feel they have the ability to stop eating or control how much they eat. Binge-eating episodes are associated with at least three of the following:

  • Eating much more rapidly than usual.
  • Eating until feeling physically uncomfortable.
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.
  • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by the amount of food one is eating.
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, and guilty afterwards.

Binge-eating disorder has a less defined gap in prevalence between genders compared to anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.  Approximately 1.6% of females and .8% of males will suffer from binge-eating disorder at any given time. Some studies have suggested a higher prevalence of binge-eating where 3.5% of females and 2% of males will develop binge-eating disorder.

On occasion, someone struggling with an unhealthy relationship with food and disordered eating may not meet every characteristic or behavior described for a particular eating disorder. When this occurs, and behaviors contribute to significant disturbances and difficulty with functioning, an alternative diagnosis of other specified feeding or eating disorder or unspecified feeding or eating disorder may be given. These alternative diagnoses allow for communication of concerns and needs in order to receive effective treatment

counselling
Treatment of Eating Disorders

There are a variety of evidenced based treatment interventions to assist in the management of symptoms and behaviors related to eating disorders. Recovery can be established and maintained by engaging in treatment as soon as possible. Treatment plans can be individualized to fit the unique needs of each individual and a variety of levels of care are available depending on the severity of symptoms and behaviors. The standard approach to the treatment of individuals with an eating disorder is the establishment of a treatment team for each individual. These outpatient treatment teams consist of a licensed psychotherapist, a primary care physician, a psychiatrist, and a registered dietitian. Each member of the treatment team has a specific role in supporting an individual diagnosed with an eating disorder.

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