Demystifying Eating Disorders and Their Treatment
For years, individuals with eating disorders were simply told to eat more (or in cases of binge eating disorder, eat less) or otherwise discounted. Fortunately, in the past few years, there has been a distinct shift in the way eating disorder psychologists and clinicians look at eating disorder signs and symptoms, and the way eating disorders are diagnosed. This has also started a slow, but promising, change in the way society at large perceives these common but dangerous conditions.
People With Eating Disorders Aren’t Crazy; They Have a Disease
Although eating disorders are mental health conditions recognized by the medical profession, there remains a tendency for people to think sufferers are “crazy.” These conditions are normally marked by a sense of lost control when it comes to eating, whether engaging in food restriction, binging, or purging. Individuals who have an eating disorder feel compelled to engage in disordered behaviors like self-starvation, associated with anorexia nervosa, or self-induced vomiting after meals, associated with bulimia nervosa.
What Makes Them Different from Depression or Anxiety?
Nearly everyone goes through phases where they might compulsively overeat or restrict their food intake, just like nearly everyone gets down or anxious from time to time. A major warning sign of eating disorder development is when someone begins to display this type of behavior regularly. Frequent binge eating episodes, for example, are a sign that disordered behavior has progressed from a possible problem to a true disorder, just as panic attacks can increase in frequency, indicating a full-blown case of anxiety disorder. Simply put, eating disorders are treatable conditions just like any other mental health disease.
Exploring and Explaining Eating Disorder Treatment
Any man or woman can be affected by an eating disorder -- even those who have what is medically considered to be a normal weight. This contradicts the media-driven idea that everyone with an eating disorder is malnourished or obese, depending on the type of disorder. In fact, while there may be extremely dangerous physical symptoms resulting from untreated eating disorders, ranging from malnutrition to osteoporosis and even death, treating the psychological aspects of the diseases is just as important as treating the physical ones. For example, guilt and self-disgust are often associated with disordered actions, and these must be factored into any rehabilitation for eating disorders that the individual undergoes.
Additionally, many people who have an eating disorder, such as compulsive overeating disorder, often have a co-occurring mental health condition. The previously mentioned anxiety and depression, for example, can both trigger and be triggered by the symptoms of various eating disorders. That’s why a course of treatment that focuses on self-improvement through guided talk therapy and evidence-based methods like DBT are so frequently used. They are time-tested and help people see that they have a manageable disease, not a death sentence or an admission of fault.
What Causes Most Eating Disorders?
While there are often no clear answers regarding what causes eating disorders, research has found that a combination of factors most often combines to create them. As mentioned previously, compulsive overeating and conditions like depression, low self-esteem and anxiety are often related. The presence of these psychological conditions can contribute to binge eating disorder, ARFID, bulimia nervosa, and others. Trauma in the form of abuse or violence, for example, could result in the individual developing PTSD, whose stresses then resulting in disordered eating as a coping mechanism.
The enormous social pressure that exists in regards to being thin could lead to some people turning to eating as a way to manage their emotions. In other cases, there is a biological component to binge eating disorder – people whose parents showed signs of eating disorders are more likely to develop one. This is why it's necessary for any course of eating disorder treatment to begin with a thorough assessment – to determine the underlying causes and treat them with clear eyes.
Eating disorder treatment still faces an untrue image problem – that it's harsh and the people receiving the treatment are "crazy" or past help. The truth is, like any other mental health issue, eating disorders are potentially dangerous, but completely treatable through compassionate psychological counseling and medical treatments. If you or a loved one is experiencing an eating disorder – don't panic. Reach out to an eating disorder counselor or facility today and get the treatment you need.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: CARRIE HUNNICUTT
With 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.