Identifying and Seeking Help for Eating Disorders

It’s a psychiatric illness with the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. It affects children as young as six years old. It has contributed to an 119% increase in the hospitalization of children under the age of twelve in just a decade.

Eating disorders are, unfortunately, very prevalent. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) estimates that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Yet only 1 in 10 will come forward for help.

It’s vital that we talk about eating disorders, particularly because of their prevalence, increasing rate and potential consequences to mental and physical health. Those struggling are at risk for not only severe emotional distress, but a decreased quality of life. They are also at risk for heart attacks, kidney failure, osteoporosis, electrolyte imbalance, and suicide.

First, we all must understand that eating disorders come in all sizes, shapes, ages and genders. Being an apparently thin female is not a prerequisite for diagnosis or treatment. People with eating disorders may also live with co-occuring conditions such as anxiety, mood disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.

Types of Eating Disorder

There are various types of eating disorders, but below are the most common forms. For full descriptions and additional eating disorders, visit NEDA’s website.

  • Binge eating disorder is the most common of the the five main eating disorders. It is a recurrent sense of lack of control, overeating and possibly behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting; abuse of laxatives, diuretics or other medications; fasting; or excessive exercise.
  • Orthorexia is where one becomes so fixated on a skewed version of “healthy eating” that they actually damage their own well-being. Body image concerns may or may not be present.
  • Bulimia is the most serious and potentially life-threatening eating disorder, characterized by a cycle of binging and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.
  • Anorexia is most commonly associated with a distorted body image. People with anorexia generally restrict the number of calories and the types of food they eat. Some may also exercise compulsively, purge, use laxatives and/or binge eat.

Seeking Treatment

Treatment for eating disorders should include a team-based approach, with regular check-ins with a therapist, dietitian, and doctor. All that have specializations with eating disorders. Self-care is also important and may include daily intentions, self-love and acceptance, self-help books, support and managing triggers.

Early intervention increases a person’s chance of recovery, so do not be afraid to reach out for help if you think you or someone you know may have an eating disorder. Talk with your primary care provider or therapist. Here are some additional resources that may help: Eating Disorder Hope and National Eating Disorders Association.

Liz Satterthwaite, RDN, LDN, is a ProMedica dietitian.