What is eating disorders? - GO.CARE Blog
What is eating disorders?
Author: Chí Hùng
Review Date: August 6, 2018 | Last Modified: June 11, 2019
What is eating disorders?

Know the basics

1. What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders describe illnesses that are characterized by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight or shape. Besides, most eating disorders involve focusing too much on your weight, body shape, and food, leading to dangerous eating behaviors. As a result, these can significantly impact your body’s ability to get adequate nutrition.

In general, the most common forms of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

Eating disorders cause a wide variety of complications, some of them are life-threatening. The more severe or long-lasting the eating disorder, the more likely you are to experience serious complications, such as:

  • Significant medical problems
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Problems with growth and development
  • Social and relationship problems
  • Substance use disorders
  • Work and school issues
  • Death

Furthermore, this health condition is extremely common. In general, it commonly affects more teenager and young females than males. Eating disorders can affect patients at any age. However, they can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Therefore, please discuss with your doctor for further information.

2. Symptoms

General Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Generally, the common symptoms of eating disorders are:

  • Chronic dieting despite being hazardously underweight.
  • Constant weight fluctuations.
  • Obsession with calories and fat contents of food.
  • Engaging in ritualistic eating patterns, such as cutting food into tiny pieces, eating alone, or hiding food.
  • Continued fixation with food, recipes, or cooking.
  • The individual may cook intricate meals for others but refrain from partaking.
  • Depression or lethargic stage.
  • Avoidance of social functions, family, and friends may become isolated and withdrawn.
  • Switching between periods of overeating and fasting.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. Hence, if you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

Red Flags of Eating Disorders

Unfortunately, many people with eating disorders may not think they need treatment. If you’re worried about a loved one, urge him or her to talk to a doctor. Moreover, be alert for eating patterns and beliefs that may signal unhealthy behavior, as well as peer pressure that may trigger eating disorders. Red flags that may indicate an eating disorder include:

  • Skipping meals or making excuses for not eating
  • Adopting an overly restrictive vegetarian diet
  • Excessive focus on healthy eating
  • Making own meals rather than eating what the family eats
  • Withdrawing from normal social activities
  • Persistent worry or complaining about being fat and talk of losing weight
  • Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws
  • Repeatedly eating large amounts of sweets or high-fat foods
  • Use of dietary supplements, laxatives or herbal products for weight loss
  • Excessive exercise
  • Calluses on the knuckles from inducing vomiting
  • Problems with loss of tooth enamel that may be a sign of repeated vomiting
  • Leaving during meals to use the toilet
  • Eating much more food in a meal or snack than it is considered normal
  • Expressing depression, disgust, shame or guilt about eating habits

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. Hence, it is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Diagnosis & Treatments

1. How is eating disorders diagnosed?

Generally, exams and tests include:

  • Physical exam. Your doctor will likely examine you to rule out other medical causes for your eating issues. Hence, he or she may also order lab tests.
  • Psychological evaluation. A doctor or mental health provider will likely ask about your thoughts, feelings, and eating habits. Moreover, you may also be asked to complete psychological self-assessment questionnaires.
  • Other studies. Additional tests may be done to check for any complications related to your eating disorder. Besides that, evaluation and testing may also be done to determine your nutritional requirements.

2. How is eating disorders treated?

Typically, treatment of an eating disorder generally includes:

  • Psychotherapy. It can help you learn how to replace unhealthy habits with healthy ones. This may include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and family-based therapy (FBT).
  • Hospitalization. If you have serious health problems, such as anorexia that have resulted in severe malnutrition, your doctor may recommend hospitalization.
  • Medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications may help with symptoms of depression or anxiety, which are frequently associated with eating disorders.

More information

1. Causes

However, the exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. As with other mental illnesses, there may be many causes, such as:

  • Genetics. Certain people may have genes that increase their risk of developing eating disorders. Moreover, people with first-degree relatives — siblings or parents — with an eating disorder may be more likely to develop an eating disorder.
  • Psychological and emotional health. People with eating disorders may have psychological and emotional problems that contribute to the disorder. Therefore, they may have low self-esteem, perfectionism, impulsive behavior, and troubled relationships.
  • Society. Success and worth are often equated with being thin in popular culture. For example, peer pressure and what people see in the media may fuel this desire to be thin.

2. Risk factors

Nowadays, there are many risk factors for eating disorders, such as:

  • Being female. Teenage girls and young women are more likely to have anorexia or bulimia. However, males can have eating disorders, too.
  • Age. Eating disorders can occur across a broad age range — including childhood, the teenage years and older adulthood. However, they are much more common during the teens and early 20s.
  • Family history. Eating disorders are significant to occur in people who have parents or siblings who’ve had an eating disorder.
  • Mental health disorders. People with depression, anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder are more likely to have an eating disorder.
  • Dieting. People who lose weight are often reinforced by positive comments from others and by their changing appearance. Hence, this may cause some people to take dieting too far, leading to an eating disorder.
  • Stress may increase your risk of an eating disorder.
  • Sports, work and artistic activities. 

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Need further information? Contact GO.CARE manage team to get more details from expert doctors and medical specialists.

GO.CARE does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.