A common misconception surrounding eating disorders is that they are a lifestyle choice. However, eating disorders are considered serious mental health illnesses, and when left untreated can result in severe short and long-term consequences. Though there are several different types of eating disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), in a very broad sense, eating disorders are characterized by severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. The different types of eating disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic include:
- Anorexia nervosa: is an eating disorder characterized by weight loss and/ or lack of appropriate wait gain in growing children, an inability to maintain an appropriate body weight for one’s age, height, stature, intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of body image (weight and/ or shape). People struggling with anorexia will employ extreme efforts to control their weight and/ or shape, which can significantly interfere with their ability to properly function in their daily life.
- Bulimia nervosa: is an eating disorder characterized by a cycle of overeating (bingeing) and compensatory behaviors (purging) in attempts to undo the effects of the binge eating episodes. Purging could include self-induced vomiting, excessively over exercising, and/ or abusing diuretics.
- Binge-eating disorder (BED): is an eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of compulsively eating abnormally large quantities of food (often quickly) to the point of physical discomfort, without engaging in compensatory behaviors. Often binge episodes are followed with emotions of embarrassment, shame, guilt, and/ or distress.
- Rumination disorder: is an eating disorder characterized by repeatedly and unintentionally regurgitating (spitting up) undigested or partially digested food from the stomach, chewing it again and either swallowing it or spitting it out.
- Avoidant/ restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID): is an eating disorder characterized by restricting food intake (i.e. eating smaller amounts) and/ or eliminating certain groups to the point of infringing on one’s exposure to and ability to absorb needed nutrients coming from food.
Each disorder has its own set of signs and symptoms, short and long-term effects, and most effective methods of treatment, respectively.
The treatment for an eating disorder will depend on several contributing factors, some of which include one’s exact diagnosis, how long he or she has been actively engaging in unhealthy eating habits, his or her personal health history, and the presence of any co-morbid disorders. The nuanced needs of a person diagnosed with an eating disorder will greatly inform his or her treatment plan. Most treatment plans for eating disorders will be customized and tailored so as to effectively accommodate all of his or her mental health needs. Depending on the needs of the individual treatment plans could include any combination of the following:
- Individual psychotherapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- Creative arts therapies
- Medical care and/ or medical monitoring
- Nutritional counseling
Additionally, depending on one’s needs, some treatment plans will include practicing and incorporating healthy activities into one’s daily schedule, such as mindfulness techniques (i.e. meditation, yoga, etc.) and/ or encouraging regular and ample sleep habits. Every person is different and will respond distinctly to the various therapeutic options available. Although there is currently no cure for eating disorders, effective treatment will help to provide an individual with healthy coping mechanisms and emotional strategies to enable a person to go on to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. It is, however, important to note, that the recovery process from an eating disorder will require a life-long, steadfast commitment.