Eating disorders are common, affecting thousands of teenagers every year. Maybe you have heard about eating disorders (Ke$ha checked into rehab for one this year), maybe you are struggling with one, or maybe you are worried about a friend. Here’s an overview.
Anorexia and bulimia are the two most common types of eating disorders, but binge-eating is also very common, especially night eating. People with eating disorders often use their eating disorder as a way of regaining control in their lives. This can be a response to sexual abuse, bullying, or trauma when they feel like serious events are out of their control. It can also be associated with weight-restricted or performance sports such as gymnastics, cheerleading, or wrestling. People often think that eating disorders only affect women, but men can have eating disorders, too. 10% of patients getting treatment for eating disorders are male, so watch out for the same warning signs in male friends too.
Symptoms:A refusal to maintain a healthy body weight, intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted body image.
Warning Signs: Rapid weight loss; intense preoccupation with food, like cutting recipes or baking for others but never eating; avoiding eating in public; playing with food to make it look like eating; harsh criticism of their own bodies; obsessive dieting, even when already thin; or excessive exercise.
Consequences: If not treated, anorexics can die from malnutrition or heart disease related to their eating disorder. They can also stop having their period leading to infertility, develop osteoporosis (brittle bones) which can cause fractures, kidney stones, and low-blood counts which increase a person’s risk of infection and decrease energy level.
Also: Many anorexics are perfectionists who want to please others and meet expectations. They feel like if they are not “perfect,” then they are a failure.
Symptoms: Repeated episodes of “binge eating,” eating a large amount of calories in a very short period of time, followed by inappropriate weight-loss efforts to compensate for the binges. These may be purging (vomiting), using laxatives, or excessive exercise. Because purging and laxatives don’t get rid of all the calories eaten during a binge, most bulimics actually gain weight over time.
Warning Signs: using the restroom after meals–typically to vomit, preoccupation with food, calluses on the back of fingers from making themselves throw up, wanting to eat in private because they are ashamed of their binging, frequent use of gum, mints, or mouthwash to cover the smell of vomit.
Consequences: Bulimics can have bleeding in their stomachs or esophagus, constipation, or diarrhea. Bulimics also have higher rates of depression, alcohol and drug use, and suicide.
Symptoms: Binge Eating is similar to bulimia in that a large amount of calories are eaten in a very short period of time, but with binge eating there is not the “purging” behaviors which are usually vomiting or laxative use.
Warning Signs: There is a compulsion to eat, even when not hungry. Binge eaters frequently eat late at night in private because they are ashamed of the behavior. They will hide food in order to be able to access it on a binge where no one will notice.
Consequences: Binge eating is usually associated with weight gain. Because of the weight gain, other physical problems associated with obesity can develop like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Binge eating is also associated with depression.
Eating Disorder Treatments
Treating an eating disorder can be a long and difficult process. There are different levels of treatment. Patients with severe eating disorders that are causing serious physical problems, even life-threatening physical concerns need to be put into the hospital for immediate treatment. Less severe cases can be treated in a residential facility, or an outpatient program. The treatment is a team effort with a medical doctor, which can be a psychiatrist, or a separate psychiatrist will be involved, a dietician, psychologist and therapists. It has been found that by treating eating disorders as a team and getting family involved early, the chance of long-term successful treatment is much better.
For support resources for patients, family and friends as well as referral information for treatments centers, support groups and hotlines, try the following sites: