What You Need to Know About Eating Disorders

The pressure to be thin is not new. It has impacted millions over the years and continues to rear its head with increasing numbers observed by the National Eating Disorders Association.

Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, recently told U.S. News and World Report that an estimated 30 million Americans have struggled with an eating disorder over their lifetimes. She further broke down the numbers to reveal that 10 million of those individuals were men.

Even though they affect nearly 10 percent of the worldwide population, eating disorders may be some of the least understood mental health challenges affecting the world today. It’s essential, though, that people learn more about them.

Important Statistics

  • Approximately 1 in 4 individuals with an eating disorder attempts suicide.
  • According to the University of Harvard’s School of Health, a person with an eating disorder dies every 52 minutes.
  • 33 to 50 percent of individuals with anorexia also have a mood disorder, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, substance use disorder, PTSD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (among others), according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
  • Eating disorders aren’t always visible by physical symptoms; fewer than 6 percent of people with eating disorders are medically diagnosed as “underweight.”
  • Eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, second only to substance use disorder involving opioid overdose.
  • The South Carolina Department for Mental Health reports that 20 percent of people with anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems.
  • Of individuals with eating disorders, men account for one-third of those diagnosed. However, it’s possible that number is much higher as men are less likely to seek diagnosis than women.
  • The yearly economic cost of eating disorders worldwide accounts for $64.7 billion, accounting for productivity losses, informal care, efficiency losses, and health system costs

What are eating disorders?

The National Eating Disorders Association defines eating disorders as serious but treatable mental and physical illnesses affecting people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights. While no one knows specifically what causes eating disorders, a growing consensus suggests that it’s a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors.

There are many types of eating disorders. They include:

  • Anorexia Nervosa – characterized by weight loss (or lack of appropriate weight gain in growing children); difficulties maintaining an appropriate body weight for height, age, and stature; and, often, distorted body image
  • Bulimia Nervosa – characterized by a cycle of binge eating and behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or laxative overuse designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating
  • Binge Eating Disorder – characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food; feeling a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame or guilt afterward; and NOT using unhealthy measures (such as vomiting or using laxatives) to counter the binge-eating episodes. This is the most common eating disorder in the U.S.
  • Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) – encompasses individuals who do not meet strict criteria for anorexia or bulimia but still have a significant eating disorder.
  • Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) – previously referred to as Selective Eating Disorder, ARFID involves limitations in the amount and/or types of food consumed; and does not include distress or anxiety about body shape or size or fears of being overweight.
  • Pica – involves eating items that are not typically thought of as food that do not contain significant nutritional value such as hair, dirt, cloth, string, wool, chalk, paint, metal, or ice.
  • Rumination Disorder – involves the regular regurgitation of food that occurs for at least one month. Regurgitated food may be re-chewed, re-swallowed, or spit back out.
  • Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder – applies where symptoms characteristic of a feeding and eating disorder that causes clinically significant distress or impairment but does not meet the full criteria for any of the disorders in the feeding and eating disorders diagnostic class.

What are the warning signs of an eating disorder?

Specialists say recovery chances increase significantly the earlier an eating disorder is detected. Raising awareness about the warning signs of eating disorders is important. However, keep in mind, this is not a checklist. Someone who is struggling with an eating disorder will not have all of these signs and symptoms at once – and they may not have any of these symptoms. This list is a general overview of considerations to keep in mind.

  1. Attitudes and concerns about weight loss, dieting, and food control are primary concerns
  2. Obsession with weight, food, calories, carbs, fat grams, and dieting
  3. Refusal to eat certain foods
  4. Appears uncomfortable eating around others
  5. Withdrawal from family, friends, and social activities
  6. Noticeable fluctuations in weight – both up and down
  7. Gastrointestinal complaints out of the norm (constipation, acid reflux, stomach cramps)
  8. Dizziness/fainting
  9. Feeling cold all of the time
  10. Dry skin and hair – hair loss
  11. Unexplained dental problems
  12. Cuts or calluses across the top of the finger joints (from self-induced vomiting)
  13. Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals
  14. Stealing or hiding food in strange places
  15. Yellowing skin

How do you treat eating disorders?

Recovery from an eating disorder is possible!

Obtaining a diagnosis from a team of professionals is the first step. The team typically includes mental health professionals, medical doctors, and a nutritionist, along with the support of family and friends. Depending on the severity of the eating disorder and complications associated with it, other professionals may be called in for extra help, such as medical specialists, physical therapists, yoga instructors, etc.).

Nutritional counseling is a significant part of treatment, as individuals learn about healthy ways to fuel their bodies. Therapists will help individuals overcome mental health barriers to establish healthy relationships with their bodies and food.

Inpatient and outpatient treatment options are available, depending on how early intervention occurs in an individual’s journey. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for everyone.

Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center has treatment options for clients with eating disorders. Please call us for more information or to schedule an appointment: 866-973-2241.