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Eating Disorders: What you need to know

Eating Disorders

Do you know which psychiatric disorder carries the highest mortality rate? It might surprise you- Eating Disorders. I know we often think about depression and anxiety, even substance abuse disorders, as taking many lives; meanwhile, many people are losing their fight with complications from starvation, purging, binging, and other issues associated with eating disorders.

Studies have shown that 1 in 7 women and 1 in 10 men can be diagnosed with an eating disorder at some point in their life. This year, National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is February 26- March 4 and the theme is “Let’s Get Real.” It’s time we learned about eating disorders, how to recognize them, and how to get help. Let’s take a look at each type of eating disorder.

Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia Nervosa tends to be the eating disorder that often gets the most awareness. It’s characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. This includes fear of gaining weight of being “fat” and negative self-perception of body weight or shape. Some of the warning signs include: weight loss, fear of gaining weight, denial of low weight, low self-esteem, rituals around food, withdrawal from friends or activities, dry skin, nails, or hair, fainting, excessive exercise, and abuse of laxatives, diet pills, or diuretics. There are many health consequences of anorexia, including but not limited to: amenorrhea, irregular or low heartbeat, muscle loss, kidney failure, disorientation, bone density loss, and death.

Bulimia Nervosa is often recognized due to binging and purging behaviors, that is, eating in excess then ridding the body of the food. The criteria includes binging and purging at least once a week, driven by dissatisfaction with weight or body shape. Some of the warning signs are secretive eating, frequent trips to the bathroom, weight fluctuations, abuse of laxatives, diet pills, or diuretics, swollen cheeks or neck, sores on the back of knuckles, stained teeth, low self-esteem, heartburn, and preoccupation with food. The medical side effects are often more related to electrolyte imbalances, edema, vitamins & mineral deficiencies, kidney problems, ruptured of the esophagus, tooth decay, and death.

Binge Eating Disorder is typically overlooked in our society despite being the most common eating disorder in the United States. BED comprises of eating more food than what is “normal” within a given amount of time and feeling a lack of control over eating. Often this leads to much distress and embarrassment or disgust. It is not associated with any compensatory behaviors associated with Bulimia or Anorexia. Some of the warning signs include: eating large amounts when not hungry, feeling painfully full, eating alone, and hiding amount of food eaten. The key health related issue is obesity, along with type II Diabetes, increased blood pressure, sleep apnea, kidney problems, heart disease, and gastrointestinal problems.

There is also another category for eating disorders identified as OSFED, or, Feeding or Eating disorders Not Elsewhere Classified. This can compose of those who might have some symptoms listed above, though not as severe. This diagnosis can be just as severe medically and psychologically as the previous diagnoses.

There are also other eating disorders, including Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, Pica, Rumination Disorder, and Orthorexia. These often are associated with other mental health diagnoses since they don’t typically include the negative self-evaluation of Anorexia, Bulimia, or Binge Eating.

One of the most important things to know about eating disorders is that they are rarely a single diagnosis. Often an individual will also have another issue, such as depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, or substance use disorder. While it appears these disorders are about food and weight, many in the throes of an Eating Disorder will identify that food and weight are the scapegoat for their feelings and emotions. Eating Disorders have recently been identified and recognized as an addictive disorder- as their behavioral patterns become increasingly difficult to control or cease. Because of all these factors, and all the potential medical complications, treatment is essential.

Help is out there

It is important to know that recovery is possible. While the road may be rocky and scary, there is hope for a much healthier life, without the constant mental torture that eating disorders bring. A previous theme for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week was “Everybody knows Somebody.” Let’s work together to break the stigma associated with Eating Disorders and get help to those who might be suffering silently. For more information, please check out, or call our office to schedule an appointment or screening.

If you or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder or possible eating disorder, please know help is available. Sherri Armitage at Building Blocks Family Counseling specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. Learn more about Sherri and the services she provides on our About Us Page. Schedule your appointment with her today.

Ashley Moore

Ashley Moore

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, my goal is to help you explore what keeps you (and/or your partner/family) “stuck” and work toward creating new cycles of interaction. I’ve helped lots of couples and families find healthy solutions for a deeper connection and more satisfying relationships.
Ashley Moore

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