Did you know at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S? Worldwide, 70 million people are considered to have an eating disorder. Commonly, if someone has an eating disorder, it is likely that person may also have another mental illness such as depression or anxiety. This is termed as comorbidity or the co-existence of two or more disorders.

The three main types of eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge-Eating Disorder. Let’s discuss the differences between these three:

  1. Anorexia Nervosa is described as persistent restriction of food intake resulting in significantly low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, persistent dissatisfaction with the way one’s body weight and shape are, and a lack of seriousness of underweight body consequences. Anorexia often leads to osteoporosis (deterioration of bones), bone fractures, interruption on menstrual cycle, and brain tissue loss, irregular or slow heartbeat, dry skin and lips, muscle loss, fatigue.
  2. Bulimia is described as the recurring episodes of consuming large quantities of food and followed by self-induced vomiting or use of laxatives. The main difference between Anorexia and Bulimia is that in Bulimia, there is a purging factor whereas Anorexia doesn’t have that. Bulimia can be categorized as a sense of lack of control over what and how much one is eating,  recurrent episodes of binge eating, recurrent purging practices such as misuse of laxatives, vomiting, fasting, or excessive exercise. The binge eating and purging behaviors occur at least once a week for three months. Bulimia can result in cardiac arrhythmia(improper beating of the heart), metabolic deficiencies, and digestive disorders.
  3. Binge-Eating Disorder key factors are recurrent and continuous binge eating episodes which are associated with eating large amounts of food yet not being hungry, eating until uncomfortably full, and feeling disgusted with oneself or guilty for overeating. Some other factors are distress when binge eating and an absence of purging behaviors.

The most common eating disorder in the United States is  Binge-Eating Disorder, and it affects 3.5% of adult women, 2% of adult men, and 1.6% of adolescents. The risk factors of Binge-Eating Disorder are weight gain, fatigue, low self-esteem, depression, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, type 2 diabetes, kidney problems or failure, and osteoarthritis. People with this disorder will usually eat alone because they are embarrassed by how much they eat in a short amount of time.

Family dynamics can be a possible reason for developing an eating disorder. Families who are disengaged, unfriendly, and hostile have been linked to eating disorders. Also parents who are competitive and controlling are more likely to have children who have an eating disorder. Some treatments commonly used for Eating Disorders are Family Therapies and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Family Therapies are when individuals within a family learn healthier ways to interact with each other and resolve conflicts while usually consulting a therapist. Likewise, with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a therapist and patient work to try and dissolve the thought process behind the negative self image eating disorders are associated with and alter unwanted behavior patterns. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is also used to treat mood disorders such as depression, and it has been the optimal treatment choice for people with Bulimia and Binge-Eating Disorder.

If you know someone who you think might have an eating disorder, tell them about your concerns in a caring way, and educate yourself on eating disorders to help prepare you for the conversation. The person might feel embarrassed or ashamed, so don’t talk in a negative way about their disorder. Being in a comfortable environment where the person feels safe might also be beneficial. The environment needs to have a calm and open presence to it. Having an eating disorder is a serious mental illness, and if you think you or someone you love may have one, don’t be afraid to talk to someone. There are seriously damaging consequences to having an eating disorder such as bone loss, irregular heart rhythm, kidney failure, and extreme weight loss or gain depending on which eating disorder behaviors you exhibit. 

So remember, people come in all shapes and sizes, and being skinny does not define who you are. It is important to have a healthy mindset of what bodies should look like and spread that on to future generations.

Hotlines:

Crisis Textline: Text CONNECT to 741741

Available 24/7, 365 days a year, this organization helps people with eating disorders and other mental health issues by connecting callers with trained crisis volunteers who will provide confidential advice, support, and referrals if needed.

Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association (formerly the Massachusetts Eating Disorder Association): 1-617-558-1881

This organization offers education, information, referrals to clinicians who specialize in eating disorders, support groups, and additional services for people with eating disorders in the New England area. It also offers information about nationwide treatment centers and is available between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST, Monday–Friday

Overeaters Anonymous: 1-505-891-2664

This hotline is available to people worldwide who need a referral to an Overeaters Anonymous support meeting in their area. Contrary to popular belief, Overeaters Anonymous is not just for people who are concerned about eating too much; it is also intended for those who have anorexia, bulimia, food addiction, or any other type of eating disorder. If you are reluctant to attend an in-person meeting or are not geographically near one, its website offers you the option to participate in an online- or telephone-based support group.

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders: 1-630-577-1330

Currently serving people in the United States, the hotline operates Monday–Friday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. CST, with plans for a 24/7 hotline coming soon. Trained hotline volunteers offer encouragement to those having problems around eating or binging, support for those who “need help getting through a meal,” and assistance to family members who have concerns that their loved one might have an eating disorder.

Hopeline Network: 1-800-442-4673

This is a hotline dedicated to serving anyone in crisis. Sometimes, people with eating disorders might feel so full of shame or self-hatred that they contemplate hurting themselves. If this is true for you, this hotline offers nationwide assistance and support from volunteers specifically trained in crisis intervention. You can talk to someone day or night about anything that’s troubling you, even if it’s not related to an eating disorder. You can also call if you need referrals to eating disorder treatment centers.

~Brook Bennett