You may think of eating disorders as a person eating far too much or far too little. In fact, eating disorders are complex illnesses, and involve intense emotions, thoughts or behaviors surrounding food, weight and/or body image. While teens and young adult women are most likely to suffer from an eating disorder, it is important to note that older women and males of any age are also at risk.
Eating disorders are classified into various types:
Anorexia Nervosa – AN
Characterized by food restriction or inadequate food intake and can also include binging/purging behavior. While anorexia is typically associated with low weight, this is not always a sign of anorexia.
Bulimia Nervosa – BN
Characterized by periods of binge-eating (consuming large amounts of food) followed by compensatory behaviors. These behaviors might include self-induced vomiting; abuse of laxatives, caffeine or diet pills; or excessive exercise.
Binge-Eating Disorder – BEN
Characterized by frequent periods of binge-eating without any compensatory behaviors. Often, individuals with binge-eating disorder will eat when they’re not hungry, engage in secret eating behaviors and feel shame regarding their eating behavior.
Avoidant and Restrictive Food Intake Disorder – ARFID
Characterized by a problem with eating that results in malnutrition or significant weight loss. Individuals with this disorder may not be interested in eating, may avoid food based on the sensory characteristics of food, or may be fearful of aversive consequences when eating (e.g., vomiting, stomach ache).
Other Specified Feeding/Eating Disorder – OSFED
A term used to describe an eating disorder that affects an individual significantly but does not necessary meet criteria for the other eating disorders listed here.
If left untreated, eating disorders can lead to serious medical issues, including dehydration, weakness, osteoporosis, edema, amenorrhea, ulcers, heart arrhythmia and heart failure to name just a few.
Additional eating concerns:
Although not in the diagnostic manual (DSM-5), there are other types of disordered eating. These include, but are not limited to:
Characterized as an “unhealthy obsession” with clean and healthy eating. Individuals with this disorder often are fixated on food quality and purity. This disorder differs from Anorexia Nervosa as individuals with AN focus on calories and weight, while those with Orthorexia focus on healthy eating.
Characterized as a disorder where individuals with Type 1 Diabetes reduce their insulin intake to lose weight.
Signs and symptoms of eating disorders
While this list is not exhaustive, here are some common signs that you or a loved one may be struggling with an eating disorder:
Preoccupation/obsession with weight, food, calories, fat grams, clean eating, exercise
Frequent comments/extreme concern about body, weight, food, exercise
Rigid eating behaviors
Abuse of laxatives, caffeine, and/or diet pills
Frequent dieting (cutting out entire food groups)
Food rituals (e.g., eating foods in certain order, taking extremely small/large bites, eating very slowly/quickly, picky eating)
Secretive food behaviors (hiding, stealing, or hoarding food)
Avoiding mealtimes or activities that involve food
Expresses a need to “burn off” calories; anxiety if exercise is not possible
Regularly uses the restroom after eating
Feelings of disgust, shame, depression, anxiety, or guilt after eating
Research suggests the most effective treatment for eating disorders includes a combination of therapeutic, nutritional and medical care.
Through therapy, clients can uncover the roots of their eating disorder and also learn behavioral techniques for stress management, coping, effective communication and relaxation. Family therapy can also be very useful in working through relationship dynamics that contribute to recovery.
Over time, therapy helps individuals better regulate their emotions, increase positive behaviors and decrease their disordered eating symptoms.
How Crosswinds can help
Crosswinds provides evidence-based therapeutic care while also coordinating care with dietitians, psychiatrists and physicians. We assess the severity of eating disorders and help connect individuals and families with the appropriate level of care. In many cases, Crosswinds will be able to provide individual or family therapy to address the root of the disordered eating behaviors. However, in severe cases, we provide referrals to exceptional providers of intensive outpatient programs, partial-hospitalization programs or inpatient care. Crosswinds works with our clients to ensure comprehensive treatment is taking place with a physician, psychiatrist and dietitian, as necessary.
Often the loved ones of an individual with an eating disorder need as much support as the patient themselves. Crosswinds is equipped to provide hope, support and care for loved ones who have also been affected by the eating disorder.
Crosswinds believes individuals suffering from an eating disorder can experience full recovery and return to a full life. John 10:10 (New International Version) states, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Our eating disorder therapeutic resources are designed to help clients and their families get back to a state of whole-hearted living.
To learn more about eating disorders, please visit:
National Eating Disorders.gov
National Associaiton of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders Inc.
The Center for Minful Eating
National Alliance on Mental Illness
UNC School of Medicine