For more information:
or call the information and referral helpline at 800-931-2237
What is an eating disorder?
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) defines eating disorders - such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder - as extreme emotion, attitudes and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. Eating disorders are serious emotional and physical problems that can have life-threatening consequences for females and males of every age, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
What causes eating disorders?
Eating disorders are complex conditions that arise from a combination of long-standing behavioral, psychological, interpersonal, biological and social conditions. Scientists and researchers are still learning about the underlying causes of these emotionally and physically damaging conditions.
Begin with preoccupations with food and weight, they are most often about much more than food.
Use food and the control of food in an attempt to compensate for emotions that may otherwise seem overwhelming.
Dieting, bingeing and purging may begin as a way to cope with painful emotions and to feel in control of one's life.
Behaviors will damage a person's physical and emotional health, self-esteem, and sense of competence and control.
What are the warning signs?
- Marked increase or decrease in weight not related to a medical condition
- Development of abnormal eating habits (severe dieting, preference for strange foods, withdrawn or ritualized behavior at mealtime, or secretive binge eating)
- Intense preoccupation with weight and body image
- Compulsive or excessive exercising
- Self-induced vomiting, periods of fasting, or laxative, diet pill or diuretic abuse
- Feelings of isolation, depression, or irritability
What does treatment involve?
Eating disorders require the care of a trained professional with expertise in the treatment of eating disorders.
- People with eating disorders need to seek professional help.
- Early diagnosis and intervention significantly enhance recovery.
- If not identified or treated in their early stages, eating disorders can become chronic, debilitating and even life-threatening conditions.
- Most effective and long-lasting treatment for an eating disorder is some form of psychotherapy or counseling, coupled with careful attention to medical and nutritional needs.
- Whatever treatment is offered should be tailored to the individual, and this will vary according to both the severity of the disorder and the patient's individual problems, needs and strengths.
- Treatment must address the eating disorder symptoms, as well as psychological, biological, nutritional, interpersonal and cultural forces that contribute to or maintain the eating disorder.
- Exact treatment needs of each individual will very. It is important for individuals struggling with and eating disorder to find a health professional they trust to help coordinate and oversee their care.
What is eating disorders prevention?
Addressing disordered eating attitudes and behaviors early on can prevent them from developing into full-blown eating disorders.
- Primary prevention of eating disorders refers to taking proactive steps to prevent their occurrence altogether.
- Enable healthy, non-eating disordered people to remain healthy.
- Promoting the early detection and prompt treatment of eating disorders, thereby increasing the chances for a quick and complete recovery.
What can you do to help prevent eating disorders?
- Learn all you can about eating disorders. Genuine awareness undermines judgmental or mistaken attitudes about food, body shape and eating disorders.
- Discourage the idea that a particular diet, weight or body size will automatically lead to happiness and fulfillment.
- Be a good role model in your attitudes about food, body image and weight-related issues. Avoid making negative comments about your body or anyone else's body. Remember that your comments - positive or negative - impact others even when you may not intend them to.
- Consider and be aware of the ways your beliefs and attitudes about your body and others' bodies are influenced by our society and culture.
- Learn about the dangers of dieting, the importance of eating a variety of foods, and enjoying moderate exercise to feel healthy and strong. Avoid overemphasizing a person's beauty and shape.
- Take good care of yourself. This includes eating well, getting plenty of rest, exercising for enjoyment, and interacting with people whom you love and enjoy being with. If you're having troubles, consider talking to a counselor about your worries.
- Talk to others about the natural differences in body types and the body's powerful attempts to maintain these naturally varied shapes and sizes.
- Support organizations like the National Eating Disorders Association by volunteering your time or giving a tax-deductible donation.