Eating disorders can occur in people of any age, sex, race and of all body weights, shapes and sizes. The physical, mental and emotional symptoms vary from person to person and by type of eating disorders. Treatment may combine cognitive therapy, medication and other therapies.
An eating disorder is a serious, complex, mental health issue that one’s affects emotional and physical health. People with eating disorders develop an unhealthy relationships with food, their weight or appearance. Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder are all types of eating disorders.
Eating disorders are treatable. People with untreated eating disorders may develop life-threatening problems.
Approximately 20 million girls and women and 10 million boys and men in America have an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are caused by several complex factors including genetics, brain biology, personality, cultural and social ideals and mental health issues.
There are different types of eating disorders. Some people may have more than one type of eating disorder. Types include:
Eating disorders can develop at any age. They affect all genders, races and ethnicities. It’s a myth that eating disorders mostly affect girls and women. Boys and men are equally at risk. Certain factors may make you more prone to developing an eating disorder, such as:
Other factors include:
A mix of genetics, environment and social factors play a role in the development of eating disorders. Some people with eating disorders may use extreme measures to limit food intake or food groups when they feel like other aspects of their lives are hard to manage. An obsession with food becomes an unhealthy way of coping with painful emotions or feelings. Thus, eating disorders are more about finding healthy way to manage your emotions than about food.
You can’t always tell by someone’s appearance that they have an eating disorder. You can have an eating disorder at any body weight or size. Eating disorders often impact the way people think about food or relate to it, which is not reflected in their weight or size.
Specific symptoms of eating disorders vary by type. It may be difficult to spot an eating disorder as it often mimics dieting. Or, a person struggling with an eating disorder may be reluctant to share their eating concerns. If you or a loved one has an eating disorder, you may notice these general changes:
Other changes could include:
Healthcare providers, such as physicians and mental health professionals, diagnose eating disorders. Your primary care provider may review symptoms, perform a physical examination and order blood tests. A mental health counselor, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, conducts a psychological evaluation to learn more about your eating behaviors and beliefs.
Providers use the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to make a diagnosis. The DSM outlines symptoms for each type of eating disorder. You don’t have to have every symptom to receive an eating disorder diagnosis. And even if you don’t have a specific DSM-listed eating disorder, you may still need help overcoming food-related issues.
Eating disorders are the second most lethal psychiatric disorder, followed only by opioid use disorder.
Greatly restricting calories, throwing up or extreme exercise can take a toll on your overall health. An untreated eating disorder places you at risk for serious problems, such as:
Treatments for eating disorders vary depending on the type and your specific needs. Even if you don’t have a diagnosed eating disorder, an expert can help you address and manage food-related issues. Treatments include:
The best treatment approach is often a combination of all of these professionals working together to obtain a comprehensive treatment to address the physical, mental and behavioral aspects.
If eating disorders run in your family, being aware of the warning signs is a good first step to catching the problem early. Prompt treatment can break unhealthy eating patterns before they become harder to overcome. You can also reduce the risks of an eating disorder by getting treatment for problems like depression, anxiety and OCD.
Be a positive role model for your family, eating health food and avoiding talking about food as “good or bad.” Do not diet, talk about dieting or make negative comments about your body.
People who get treatment for eating disorders often recover and go on to lead healthy lives. It’s helpful to detect a problem early and start treatment right away.
There are different levels of care, including:
Your primary care doctor will work with you to decide what level of treatment would be right for you.
Left untreated, people with eating disorders can develop life-threatening complications. Some people may need to receive medical and mental health care at a hospital or treatment center.
You should call your healthcare provider if you have an eating disorder and you:
If you have an eating disorder, you may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Eating disorders are a serious problem that can affect your mental and physical health. If you think you have an eating disorder, don’t be embarrassed about seeking help. Millions of Americans struggle every day with an eating disorder. With proper medical care and mental health counseling, you can get better. Years of living with an untreated eating disorder can harm your physical health and may lead to life-threatening problems. Take the first step to protecting your well-being by talking to your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/07/2020.
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