Companion Benefit Alternatives

Eating Disorders

There is no such thing as a “perfect body.” But in today’s society, there is tremendous pressure to look perfect — like famous fashion models, music artists and actors. Our family, peers and cultural practices also affect our ideas about body image and eating habits.

Having the perfect body weight and shape has become a social norm. The problem is that many of us are so focused on having the “perfect” body, we have stopped working toward a healthy body. In some cases, this leads to developing an eating disorder.

The good news is that eating disorders are treatable. The sooner you recognize and get treatment for the disorder, the better the outcome. It is never too late to get treatment. You are not alone!

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is a common eating disorder. The main symptom is a strong fear of gaining weight. Because of this fear, people with anorexia gradually restrict the amount of food they eat. This leads to extreme weight loss.

It may start by simply dieting. Then, thoughts of food, dieting and weight get out of control. Anorexia is most common in young females. Around 95 percent of those with anorexia are between the ages of 12 and 25. Common symptoms and warning signs of anorexia include:

  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Dry, yellowish skin
  • Low blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse
  • A fixed belief of being overweight even when very thin
  • Excessive exercise
  • Avoiding certain foods
  • Using laxatives, diuretics or diet pills to lose weight

If you or someone you know has anorexia, the first goal of treatment is to return the person to a healthy weight. After that, treatment turns to understanding the psychological issues related to the eating disorder. Finally, minimizing or eliminating the behaviors or thoughts that lead to anorexia is important to prevent it from happening again. To reach all of these goals requires medical attention and supportive therapy. Occasionally, anorexia nervosa can result in death due to the effects of severe starvation.

Bulimia Nervosa

The main symptom of bulimia is eating a large amount of food in a very short time. Bulimics will then get rid of the food by vomiting, exercising too much or overusing medication, like laxatives. This cycle is called “binge and purge” and may happen multiple times each day.

Like anorexia, thoughts of food, diet and weight become consuming. Again, the majority of those with bulimia are women, with the average age in the mid-20s. Common symptoms and warning signs of bulimia include:

  • Average or above average weight
  • Weakness, headaches, dizziness 
  • Frequent weight fluctuations due to alternating binges and fasts
  • Strange behavior that surrounds secretive eating
  • Disappearance after meals, often to the bathroom, with the sound of running water 
  • Dental problems caused by frequent vomiting
  • Excessive exercise
  • Using many laxatives each day

The number one goal in treating bulimia is to reduce or eliminate binge eating and purging behaviors. Therapies, medication and nutritional classes can help recovery.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

BED is the most common eating disorder in the United States. BED characteristics include periods of compulsive overeating or continuous eating. A binge eating episode typically lasts around two hours, but some people binge on and off all day long. 

Binge eaters often eat even when they’re not hungry and continue eating long after they’re full. Binge eating can lead to weight gain and obesity. BED symptoms usually begin in late adolescence or early adulthood. Common behavioral symptoms and warning signs of BED include:

  • A frequent feeling of being unable to control how much is being eaten.
  • Frequent episodes of uncontrollable binge eating, followed by feelings of disgust or guilt afterward.
  • Eating large amounts of food, even when not physically hungry.
  • Secretive food behaviors, including eating alone and stealing, hiding or hoarding food.
  • Disruption in normal eating behaviors, developing food rituals, changing schedules to make time for binge sessions.

If you or someone you know has BED, it is important to start treatment as soon as it is recognized. An effective BED treatment program should address symptoms and destructive eating habits. It should also address the root of the problem, such as the emotional triggers that lead to binge eating.

Psychiatrists, therapists and registered dietitians offer treatment for BED. With the right help and support, you can learn to control your eating and develop a healthy relationship with food. 

Getting Help

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, help is available. Remember, the first step in overcoming an eating disorder is recognizing the problem and asking for help. You can start by: