The Three Major Kinds of Eating Disorders

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week in 2018 is February 26 – March 4. During these seven days, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) extends itself to educate Americans about eating disorders. It’s ironic that we are part of a society where thinness is prized but many Americans are overweight. Many people try to lose weight by going from one diet to another. However, young people with eating disorders have taken such concerns to an extreme level and are undermining their health and even putting their lives at risk. If you are the parent of a high schooler that you suspect has an eating disorder, it helps to be aware of the different types of disorders.

The following is a description of the three major kinds, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa

Young people with anorexia nervosa suffer from a distorted body image. They see themselves as being overweight, even though it’s obvious to everyone around them that they are actually dangerously thin. They may refuse to eat entirely, especially in front of others, and exercise compulsively. They end up with significant weight loss and may even starve to death.

Bulimia Nervosa

Unlike anorexics, individuals with bulimia nervosa eat large quantities of food, then purge themselves of that food, often in secrecy. They may stick their fingers down their throat to induce vomiting, use laxatives, diuretics, or enemas, and exercise a lot. After bingeing, they feel ashamed and disgusted and are only relieved of these negative emotions by getting rid of the food. Unfortunately, a vicious cycle happens – purging to get rid of excess calories and psychological pain, then bingeing again in an effort to escape that pain.

Binge Eating Disorder

Just like individuals with bulimia, those with binge eating disorder frequently indulge in eating that’s way out of control. However, unlike bulimia sufferers, binge eaters don’t purge their bodies after eating.

Who Suffers From Eating Disorders?

Anorexia and bulimia in young people primarily affect girls, but boys can also be vulnerable (about a quarter of preadolescent anorexics are boys). Binge eating disorder is about equally distributed among boys and girls

How Do Eating Disorders Start?

Certain personality traits and psychological factors may predispose some young people to develop eating disorders. For instance, anorexics tend to be perfectionists (they want what they see as the perfect body), while bulimics are often impulsive. Eating disorders usually evolve from somewhat less severe eating behaviors. Individuals with anorexia and bulimia have often followed stringent diets with resulting weight loss. Binge eating disorder may start with just occasional bingeing and then become more compulsive.

What are Some Triggers for Eating Disorders?

Young people who end up with eating disorders may have been teased by family members or friends about their bodies. They may be participating in gymnastics, figure skating, or ballet, activities where slimness is emphasized. Traumas such as abuse or a family member death can act as triggers. Even a supposedly happy event, such as the arrival of a new baby can serve as a trigger because of the stressful impact on the older sibling.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

A large proportion of young people suffering from eating disorders never get any help. The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) reported that only one in five affected adolescents receive treatment for anxiety, eating, or substance use disorders. But, not treating eating disorders can lead to serious physical and mental consequences. For instance, Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics states that individuals with anorexia have a mortality rate eighteen times higher than their unaffected peers. Sadly, this mortality figure includes many suicides.

Does Treatment for Eating Disorders Work?

The short answer is yes. Cures are not instant, but most young people with eating disorders can be helped over the long term. What must be understood is that abnormal eating patterns if allowed to continue become more deeply ingrained and more difficult to treat.

In the Phoenix, Arizona area, Doorways provides outpatient treatment for ages thirteen to twenty-five. If you have a family member with an eating disorder falling within this age group, contact us for a free consultation – 602-997-2880. Remember, the sooner you get your young person into treatment, the better.


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