What Is an Eating Disorder?November 10th, 2017

Eating Disorders

Most people think of an eating disorder as a lifestyle decision or a diet "gone too far." In fact, eating disorders are serious mental health conditions with life-threatening implications if left untreated. The mortality rate for people with eating disorders is the highest of all psychiatric illnesses, and more than 12 times higher than that for people without eating disorders.

The most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa (extreme restriction of food intake), Bulimia Nervosa (obsessive purging or intentional vomiting of food) and Binge Eating Disorder (uncontrollable eating of large amounts of food in a short time period).

Is an eating disorder an addiction?

Eating disorders and addictions often occur together, and there are many similarities in both risk factors and characteristics. Both disorders can be triggered by stress or are often related to histories of abuse and neglect. Additionally, both are chronic diseases with high relapse rates.

Recovery, however, can be quite different with each disorder. The substance abuser must abstain from the substance; the individual with an eating disorder cannot abstain from the food since it is needed to sustain life. Abstinence for those with eating disorders involves abstinence from its symptoms – starvation, rigid dieting, binge eating, purging and body loathing. Rather than ending the relationship with the substance, the individual with an eating disorder must work to form a healthy relationship with food, while the substance abuser traditionally severs the relationship with the substance(s) of abuse completely. 

What is the treatment standard for an eating disorder?

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends evidence-based treatment from a coordinated treatment team that specializes in Eating Disorders treatment and incudes these interventions:

  • Medical stabilization
  • Nutritional rehabilitation
  • Pharmacotherapy
  • Psychosocial treatment

With any chronic and complex illness, early interventions typically have the best results. Too many eating disorders are under-recognized and under-treated, leading to preventable physical and emotional damage.

If you suspect that you or someone you care for has an eating disorder, take a courageous step and seek help from a physician, mental health counselor or dietitian that specializes in the treatment of EDs.

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