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Eating Disorders

What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders affect how individuals view and deal with food, eating, and weight. There are several types of eating disorders:

Anorexia Nervosa is an illness in which individuals do not maintain a healthy weight, develop unusual rules and restrictions about eating, and focus on body size as a main part of their identity, always fearful about "being fat." These individuals may or may not binge eat or throw up after eating. Bulimia Nervosa is a condition in which individuals lose control over their eating and consume large amounts of food ("bingeing"), and then feel the need to compensate for this calorie intake through such activities as throwing up, abusing laxatives, or over exercising ("purging"). Many people with significant concerns and problems with eating and weight do not technically meet criteria for these diagnoses, but still have an Eating Disorder, and this category is labeled Eating Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified. It is no less serious than the other disorders. Lately, mental health and medical care providers have become more aware of a disorder labeled Binge Eating Syndrome, in which excessive amounts of food are eaten in a discrete period of time but in which no compensatory strategies, like purging, are employed.

Who is affected by Eating Disorders?
The most common group identified with eating disorders is females in adolescence and young adulthood. However, in recent years, it is no longer unusual to see such symptoms in young children, older adults, and males. As our culture expands its demands for physical perfection to increasingly wider populations, we can expect to see more cases of eating disorders. Families, friends, and school staff also are affected by the person's symptoms, as they feel they are forced to stand by helplessly and witness the obviously unhealthy behaviors and the detrimental impact of these behaviors.

How is an Eating Disorder diagnosed?
Diagnosis is made by a medical or mental health professional qualified to assess for this condition. The professional does an interview and, often, administers psychological testing or surveys, assessing for symptoms that indicate an eating disorder and/or other conditions that may be contributing to current problems. Often, additional referrals are made for a full physical exam and a nutritional assessment as a part of this process.

What are the symptoms of an Eating Disorder?
Possible symptoms include dramatic changes in eating patterns and, sometimes, in weight. Excessive focus or concern about body size and unrealistic physical self-image also are typical. Individuals may leave the table shortly after eating or start exercising excessively. The person usually has many excuses for why she or he is engaging in unusual behavior, but over time it becomes evident that there is something unreasonable and rather obsessive about his or her focus and behavior. Often such over involvement in these issues results in social withdrawal and lack of investment in normal interests and activities, and there may be mood shifts and anxiety not previously seen. Females may lose their menstrual cycle. Individuals may start having stomach and/or dental problems.

To access services:
Call 1-800-833-3100

Physicians should call the Physicians' Priority Line at 1-888-592-7955.

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