The first step in getting help is understanding the term “eating disorder.” Eating disorders generally fall into three categories: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating/compulsive overeating disorder. Though the root issues may be the same for all three, each disorder exhibits itself in a unique way.
More than 90 percent of those who have eating disorders are women between the ages of 12 and 25 (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, 2003). However, increasing numbers of older women have these disorders. In addition, hundreds of thousands of men and younger boys are being affected by these disorders also (U.S. DHHS Office on Women's Health, 2000).
Anorexia is characterized by significant weight loss, often as a result of self-imposed starvation. People with anorexia cannot maintain their body at the minimum ideal weight for their age and height. They are intensely fearful of gaining weight, perceive themselves as fat, and deny the seriousness of their weight loss. Their intense fear of gaining weight often becomes a preoccupation with food, calories, and exercising. More people die from anorexia than from any other psychiatric disorder.
Symptoms of anorexia include:
- always has an excuse not to eat
- skips meals, takes tiny portions, will not eat in front of others
- loses hair, looks pale or malnourished, wears baggy clothes to hide thinness
- loses weight yet fears obesity and complains of being fat despite excessive thinness
- exercises excessively and compulsively
Bulimia is marked by a cycle of binge eating—consuming a large amount of food in short time periods with an accompanying sense of being out of control—followed by some form of purging—from vomiting to excessive use of laxatives or diuretics to obsessive exercising. Bulimia can result in a variety of medical problems from dental and esophageal disorders to kidney and gastrointestinal damage. In some cases, bulimia nervosa can even lead to death.
- binges, usually in secret, and empties cupboards and refrigerator
- buys “binge food” (usually junk food or food high in calories, carbohy-drates and sugar)
- leaves clues that suggest discovery is desired: empty food packages; foul-smelling bathrooms; running water to cover sounds of vomiting; use of breath fresheners
- uses laxatives, diet pills, water pills or “natural” products to promote weight loss.
Binge Eating/Compulsive Overeating Disorder
Like bulimia, this disorder entails consuming a large amount of food in short time periods with an accompanying sense of being out of control. However, in this case, the food binge is not followed by a purging episode. Often people with this disorder eat very quickly, feeling as if they cannot stop. Or, eat until they are uncomfortably full, after which they feel intense shame. Binge eaters/compulsive overeaters often exhibit symptoms of depression such as isolation and mood swings.
Symptoms may include:
- Yo-Yo dieting
- preoccupation with food
- fear of not having enough to eat
- fear of not being full
- feeling of guilt
WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS?
The more warning signs a person has, the higher the probability the person has or is developing an eating disorder. If you think you or someone you know may have an eating disorder, please call the Counseling Center at 641-3609. A counselor is available to answer questions and provide information. All services are confidential and provided free of charge.
- gains or loses an excessive amount of weight during a short period of time
- exhibits significant changes in eating behavior, such as excessive dieting, eating alone behind closed doors, hurrying to the bathroom after meals
- is preoccupied with food, weight, counting calories
- complains about being “too fat” even if thin
- is overly self-deprecating and unable to accept compliments
- believes that she or he will be “happier,” “more attractive,” or “more successful” when she or he reaches the desired goal weight
- has difficulty eating in public
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Treatment can save the life of someone with an eating disorder. Friends, relatives, teachers, and physicians all play an important role in helping the person start and stay with a treatment program. Encouragement, caring, persistence, as well as information about eating disorders and their dangers, may be needed to convince the ill person to get help, stick with treatment, or try again.
- DO express your concern in a sensitive, nonjudgmental way. It’s important to choose carefully the time and place for your conversation.
- DO be prepared for a denial of the problem—it’s often difficult for people with eating disorders to acknowledge that they are ill.
- DO encourage the family to seek professional help together.
- DO be patient and understanding. Because of the complexity of eating disorders, no single factor is to “blame.”
- DON'T ignore the problem. If it is left unchecked, an eating disorder can endanger a person’s physical and emotional health and perhaps lead to death.
- DON’T try to force your loved one to eat or insist that she or he gain or lose weight.
- DON’T make comments about appearance, dieting, weight, or calorie counting. Such comments can be misinterpreted and used to reinforce the eating disorder.
The following organizations and websites are sources of information about eating disorders and resources in your community.
ANAD, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
Call (847) 831-3438 or visit thier website
ANRED, Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc.
National Eating Disorders Association
For treatment options, call (866) 690-7239 or visit their website, something-fishy.org
Online Eating Disorder Screening
Screening for Mental Health