What Every Parent Needs to Learn About Eating Disorders

What Every Parent Needs to Learn About Eating Disorders

If you have an eating disorder, or you have a loved one or friend who suffers from one, you know how an eating disorder can affect every aspect of your life. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, about 8 million people in the United States suffer from anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and related eating disorders. Here are important facts about eating disorders, as well as what you can do to get treatment.

Types of Eating Disorders

There are several types of eating disorders, however, the three major eating disorders are perhaps the most well-known and understood.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized primarily by a desire to achieve excessive weight loss. As a result, sufferers often deprive themselves of food to reach what they perceive as the ideal body type. The problem is that what they imagine as “ideal” is almost always distorted. This distortion is known as “body dysmorphia.”

An individual with body dysmorphia focuses on their flaws — real or imagined — to an excessive degree. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America classifies body dysmorphia as a mental disorder, as it involves extreme negative thoughts that cause the person to miss work, skip school, and isolate themselves from social situations. For example, someone with anorexia nervosa may focus on cellulite on their thighs and then diet and exercise to an extreme degree in an effort to rid themselves of the cellulite. However, cellulite can form on a thin, healthy person and isn’t necessarily associated with being overweight. This can cause someone with anorexia to become trapped in a cycle of dieting and depression.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa involves the bingeing and purging of food. Unlike an anorexic, who avoids eating, a bulimic is more likely to fall into a cycle of starvation and overeating. The person denies himself or herself food, only to give in to the urge to eat and then overcompensate by eating excessively. Later, when the person feels guilty for eating, he or she will purge by forcefully vomiting.

Binge Eating Disorder

Unlike bulimia nervosa, someone with binge eating disorder does not go through a binge-and-purge cycle. Rather, an individual with binge eating disorder will fall into periods of extreme eating, followed by a deep sense of shame and guilt. During the guilt phase, the person may avoid eating or may attempt to go on an extreme diet as “punishment” for bingeing.

Other Types of Eating Disorders

Other types of eating disorders may be less common, but they can be just as destructive as the more well-known disorders. For example, orthorexia, which is known as “healthy eating gone bad,” has become increasingly common in recent years as people have turned to extreme dieting fads that require them to cut out all carbs, eat only raw foods, or totally eliminate sugar from their diet. While food researchers and dieticians say that many types of dieting programs can be beneficial, anything taken to an extreme can turn into an eating disorder.

Signs of an Eating Disorder

Do you suspect a love one of suffering from an eating disorder? Do you think you may be struggling with an addiction to food, or an addiction to exercise that’s related to your relationship with food? The signs of an eating disorder can range from very obvious to quite subtle. The National Eating Disorders Association lists what to look for:

Changing behaviors, such as a different attitude toward food

Dramatic weight loss

Dressing in layers

A preoccupation with weight, food, counting calories, or dieting

Frequent comments about feeling or looking fat

Cold intolerance, lethargy


Reluctant to eat around other people

Stealing or hoarding food

Disappearing after meals

Unusual swelling in the cheeks and jaw area

Eating disorders can also cause physical changes in a person’s appearance. Perhaps most obviously, a person with an eating disorder is likely to lose weight rapidly or to suffer from extreme swings in weight. A person with an eating disorder may also experience dry, brittle, or thinning hair due to a lack of nutrients from food. Individuals with bulimia nervosa often suffer from excessive cavities and discolored teeth caused by stomach acid wearing away the enamel on their teeth. They may also experience more cavities due to extra acid in their mouths caused by vomiting.

Getting Help for an Eating Disorder

An eating disorder is an addiction just like any other type of an addiction. For an anorexic, the addiction may involve an addiction to exercise. For a bulimic or someone with binge eating disorder, the addiction can revolve around food. In nearly all cases, however, the source of the eating disorder is not related to food. Rather, the disorder typically stems from some other problem or incident in the person’s past or present life.

This is why it’s important for people with an eating disorder to receive professional treatment. A therapist or medical professional with experience treating eating disorders can help the individual identify the root of the problem and give them tools to overcome it.

Dana A. Wells, M.ed., Rdn, Ldn, Cpt

Address: 702 Hyde Park, Doylestown, PA 18902

Phone: (215) 589-7111

Summit Eating Disorder Center

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