Eating disorders are life-threatening illnesses, widely misunderstood in popular culture. The severe physical consequences of such a disorder can be overshadowed by the mistaken belief that an eating disorder is a phase or a lifestyle choice. Eating disorders afflict several million people at any given time, and typically arise during the teen years or in early adulthood. Influenced by peer pressure and media images, many teen girls and some teen boys become highly susceptible to eating disorders.
Also known as food disorders, eating disorders are characterized by severe disturbances in a person’s eating behaviors, combined with the warping of thoughts and emotions related to food and body image. Thus, people with eating disorders become overly focused on their body weight and food intake. The three most well-known types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.
From anorexia nervosa and bulimia to binge eating disorder and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, the different types of eating disorders share characteristics. For example, teens with eating disorders tend to be perfectionists with low self-esteem. Very critical of their bodies, they see themselves as overweight, even when experiencing semi-starvation. Moreover, such intense fear of gaining weight is linked to body dysmorphia, in which the self-perception of one’s body is warped.
There is no single risk factor for food disorders. Although genetics may play a role, eating disorders also afflict people with no prior family history. Furthermore, lack of treatment for the symptoms of anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and other eating disorders often leads to malnutrition, heart damage, and other potentially fatal conditions. Evidence-based treatment methods for eating disorders range from inpatient stabilization to support groups.
Sources: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, American Psychiatric Association