Recently, I had a client who came to see me due to depression and anxiety. While doing the intake, I realized that this person also had an eating disorder. Eating disorders often coexist with other mental health issues. It is important for people to understand that eating disorders need to be taken seriously and can be life threatening. This client had some of the classic symptoms of anorexia. She saw herself as very overweight even though in reality she was underweight. Her self-esteem was very low. She was abusing laxatives and starving herself. She also exercised very hard for 2 or 3 hours daily.
Researchers don’t know how many people have eating disorders. These disorders often occur in teenagers or young adults. However, children or older adults can also struggle with eating challenges. Eating disorders affect people from all genders and ethnic backgrounds. People who struggle with an eating disorder may consume small amounts of food or consume large amounts of food.
There are several types of eating disorders. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) article on Eating Disorders, describes the following eating disorders:
People with anorexia restrict their calorie consumption and diet. They starve themselves and are often malnourished. They over exercise and use laxatives. They have a distorted body image and fear of gaining weight.
NIMH indicates that people with anorexia exhibits the following symptoms:
- They are extremely thin
- They want to be thin at all cost
- They are unwilling to maintain a normal weight
- They have a distorted body image
- They have medical issues such as dental decay, dry skin and heart problems
- Their self-esteem is tied to body weight and shape
- Women and girls who have this disorder stop menstruating and restrict eating
People with bulimia often eat large amounts of food and then purge. During these episodes, they lack self control and can’t stop eating. After overeating they vomit, use laxatives, fast and over exercise. People with bulimia generally maintain a normal weight or are overweight. People with bulimia fear gaining weight and are unhappy about their body. They engage in bulimic behaviors secretly because they have feelings of shame around their behavior. The binge purge cycle ranges from a couple of times a week to several times a day.
NIMH says that people with bulimia may exhibit the following symptoms:
- Inflamed and sore throat
- Swollen salivary glands
- Worn tooth enamel and decaying teeth due to exposure to stomach acid
- Acid reflux disorder
- Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
- Severe dehydration
- Electrolyte imbalance which can lead to heart attack
People with binge-eating disorder have loss of control over eating. They consume large quantities of food. They don’t purge after eating. They are generally overweight or obese. They are at risk for developing health issues such as heart problems or high blood pressure. They have guilt and shame about their lack of control surrounding eating.
- Eating large amounts of food – often very quickly
- Inability to stop eating
- Unhappy about their weight
NIMH indicates that clients with eating disorders usually need improved nutrition, appropriate exercise routines, and need to discontinue purging. Treatment plans generally need to be individually designed. In chronic cases, medical care, nutritional counseling and hospitalization may be necessary. In general, clients with eating disorders can benefit from regular talk therapy sessions and possibly medication.
National Institute of Mental Health Pamphlet on Eating Disorder