Risk Factors and Treatment Options for Eating Disorders

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia can be life threatening if left untreated. However, for those who seek treatment, recovery rates are excellent. Eating disorders are characterized by a preoccupation with food and weight that becomes obsessive.

Categorizing Eating Disorders and their Symptoms

Here are the main types of eating disorders and signs that you might have them.

  • Anorexia Nervosa or Anorexia: When you have anorexia, you have an obsession with being very thin. Symptoms include refusing to eat, a negative self-concept, fear of gaining weight, too much exercise, preoccupation with food, social isolation, irritability or anger, poor sleep, lack of emotion, abdominal pain, dehydration, dry skin and more.
  • Bulimia Nervosa or Bulimia: When you have bulimia, you binge on food and then purge through vomiting and/or excessive exercise. Symptoms include self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, an obsession with body weight, poor self-esteem, excessive exercise, feeling that your behavior is beyond your control, tooth decay and gum problems, throat sores, irregular menstruation, constant dieting and fasting, and possible drug/alcohol addictions.
  • Binge-Eating Disorder: When you have this disorder, you eat very large amounts of food on a regular basis. There is no purging or excessive exercise associated with binge eating. Symptoms include eating so much it becomes painful, eating excessive quantities of food, hiding your eating or eating alone, eating quickly and feeling depression or anger with yourself for eating too much.

The Causes of Eating Disorders

The best research suggests that a complex set of factors contribute to eating disorders. Genetics is one of the factors that make a person susceptible to eating disorders. The issue often is found in nuclear families and close relatives. The amount of serotonin in the brain may be related, and that often has a genetic link.

Emotional health plays a role too. Those with eating disorders sometimes have related psychological problems that contribute. These include low self-esteem, perfectionism, relationship problems and impulsiveness. Finally, society plays a role because it reinforces negative stereotypes that favor very thin people – even those who are too thin to be healthy. This factor is changing slowly, but awareness of the issue has helped.

Most eating disorders occur most often in women, though binge eating is found in men about as often as in women. The young are affected more often, with eating disorders common in teens and into the mid-twenties. Dieting that is taken too far, working out too strenuously and difficult life transitions can all be contributing causes.

Finding Help for Eating Disorders

The good news is that there are very effective treatments for eating disorders. Most involve at least 2 of these: Psychotherapy (counseling) for yourself and possibly family therapy when a child or adolescent has an eating disorder, weight restoration and nutrition education, hospitalization when health issues have resulted and medication to help control urges to binge or purge.

If you or someone close to you has an eating disorder, the first step is to speak to your doctor. He or she will help you find the right next steps. Eating disorders are quite common and successful treatments with proven results are well-established.

The Cost of Treatment and the Place of Insurance

Hospitalization can be very expensive. Psychotherapy and medication are moderately costly. If you have health insurance, your insurance will provide for some level of coverage for both the physical and mental aspects of eating disorder treatment.

There’s no reason to continue to suffer with anorexia, bulimia or binge eating. See your family doctor and discuss your options. You’ll find that there are very effective treatments that can help you break the cycle and live free from past eating disorders.