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Eating Disorders Therapy Psychotherapy

Almost everyone worries about their weight, at least occasionally. People with different types of eating disorders take such concerns to extremes, developing abnormal eating habits that threaten their wellbeing and even their lives. This eating disorder information answers the question "What are eating disorders?" and explains the types of eating disorders, who are at risk, the causes as well as treatment issues.

What Are the Different Kinds of Eating Disorders?

While there are over ten different eating disorders, the following eating disorder information focuses on the three most common ones:

  • Anorexia Nervosa: Those with anorexia nervosa (often just referred to as anorexia) have a distorted body image causing them to see themselves as overweight even when they're dangerously thin. They refuse to eat, exercise compulsively, and develop unusual eating habits such as refusing to eat in front of others; they lose large amounts of weight and may even starve to death.

  • Bulimia Nervosa: Those with bulimia nervosa (often referred to as just bulimia) eat excessive quantities of food, and then purge their bodies of the food and calories by using laxatives, enemas, diuretics, vomiting and/or exercising. Often acting in secret, they feel disgusted and ashamed as they binge, yet relieved of tension and negative emotions once they have purged.

  • Binge Eating Disorder: People with binge eating disorder experience frequent episodes of out-of-control eating, similar to bulimia; however, eating disorder information indicates binge eaters don't purge their bodies of excess calories.

Research emphasizes the importance of preventing problematic eating behaviours from evolving into full-fledged eating disorders. Anorexia and bulimia, for example, usually are preceded by very strict dieting and weight loss. Binge eating disorder can begin with occasional bingeing. Whenever eating behaviours start having a destructive impact on someone's functioning or self-image, it's time to become educated, research in-depth information about eating disorders, and see a trained mental health professional, such as a licensed psychologist experienced in treatment for eating disorders.

Who Suffers From Eating Disorders?

According to eating disorders, the information provided by the National Institute of Mental Health, adolescent and young women accounts for 90 per cent of cases. But eating disorders aren't just a problem for teenage girls, as is so often depicted in the media. Older women, men, and boys can also develop disorders (Eating Disorder Facts: Who Gets Eating Disorders?). An increasing number of ethnic minorities are also falling prey to these devastating illnesses.

People sometimes have eating disorders without their families or friends ever suspecting they have a problem. Aware their behaviour is abnormal, but perhaps not understanding why, people with anorexia, bulimia or binge eating may withdraw from social contact, hide their behaviour and deny their eating patterns are problematic. Making an accurate diagnosis requires the involvement of a licensed psychologist or other appropriate health professional.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

Certain psychological factors predispose people to develop eating disorders. Dysfunctional families or relationships are one factor. Personality traits are commonly noted in research and other literature as also contributing. Most people with eating disorders suffer from low self-esteem, perfectionism, feelings of helplessness and intense dissatisfaction with the way they look. Physical factors, such as genetics, also may play a role in putting people at risk. (read: Many Causes of Eating Disorders)

A wide range of situations can precipitate eating disorders in susceptible individuals. Some examples are:

  • Family members or friends may repeatedly tease people about their bodies, not aware this can be harmful.

  • Individuals may be participating in gymnastics or other sports that emphasize low weight or a certain body image.

  • Negative emotions or traumas such as rape, abuse, or the death of a loved one can also trigger eating disorders.

  • Even a happy event, such as giving birth, can lead to eating disorders because of the stressful impact of the event on an individual's new role and body image.

Unfortunately, once people start engaging in abnormal eating behaviours, the problem can perpetuate itself.

Why is it Important to Seek Treatment for Eating Disorders?

Eating disorder information and research indicates eating disorders are one of the psychological problems least likely to be treated. But eating disorders don't often go away on their own and leaving them untreated can have serious consequences. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates one in ten anorexia cases ends in death from starvation, suicide or medical complications like heart attacks or kidney failure.

Eating disorders can devastate the body. People are often unaware of the physical health problems and complications associated with eating disorders. They include:

  • Anaemia

  • Heart palpitations

  • Hair and bone loss

  • Tooth decay

  • Inflammation of the oesophagus (esophagitis)

  • Cessation of menstruation

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

  • Other problems associated with obesity or starvation

Eating disorders are also associated with other mental illnesses. Researchers are unsure whether the eating disorder causes mental illness or vice versa. What is clear, however, is that people with eating disorders suffer higher rates of other mental illness - including depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse - than other people.

Find out where to get help for eating disorders.

Through eating disorders therapists, psychologists play a vital role in the successful treatment of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. They are integral members of the multidisciplinary team required to provide patient care and can be one of the sources of eating disorder information.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT): this is an evidence-based eating disorder therapy focused around triggers, behaviours and consequences of the eating disorder. There is also a focus on irrational and harmful beliefs, such as believing they are fat when they are severely underweight. Eating disorder group therapy provides the advantage of interacting with others suffering from an eating disorder.


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