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Eating Disorders

Eating disorder symptoms and treatment

Eating disorders come about as a result of a number of factors in a person's life. These factors extend beyond food and eating to include self-esteem, relationship difficulties and society's preoccupation with weight and self-image. Evidence is emerging to suggest that some eating disorders are associated with a brain chemical imbalance and ADHD in children, though this may be the outcome of the disorder rather than the cause.

Eating Disorders

Identifying eating disorders in others is difficult, as individuals suffering from them try very hard to prevent being discovered. Furthermore, eating disorders often exist together with other disturbances like depression and anxiety, so they can be hard to distinguish from these problems. It is important to recognize the signs of disordered eating and seek help as soon as possible. Our ability to function normally relies on our ability to get the nutrients and energy available in food. Eating regularly and practicing healthy food nutrition is vital to our day-to-day biological functioning and psychological well-being.

Symptoms of an Eating Disorder

There are a number of clues that suggest the existence of eating disorders, and being aware of them can be a good way to pick up on what are often hidden signs. If you or someone you know exhibits a number of these symptoms, you may want to seek help. Some general signs are:

  • Extreme unhappiness with weight that appears normal or below average
  • Low self-esteem and / or self-image
  • Constant concern about others' perceptions of self
  • Desire to be perfect, or aspiring to impossible image goals
  • Dissatisfaction with physical achievements
  • Withdrawal from social situations
  • Concentration or judgment problems


Anorexia nervosa is a clinically recognized disorder characterized by obsessive weight control through starvation. People who have anorexia frequently see themselves as larger than they are. Some signs of this eating disorder are a large drop in weight, a sense of not being in control of oneself and the belief that weight control will provide a sense of competency in other areas of life. People with the disorder may also show signs of starvation or malnutrition (e.g., thinning of the hair or dry, colorless skin) and women will have irregular menstrual periods. The results of this condition can lead to death as the body is weakened by a lack of sufficient nutrients.


Bulimia nervosa is diagnosed in a person who binge-eats and then purges. Like other eating disorders, bulimia often exists along with body-image disturbances and low self-esteem. Binging is the consumption of a great amount of food at once. This overindulgence in eating triggers feelings of guilt or self-loathing which leads the person to purge, which may occur as self-induced vomiting or abuse of diet pills or laxatives.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

Treatment for eating disorders typically involves a combined approach including medical and therapeutic treatments. When thoughts of food and eating are preventing a normal, happy lifestyle, it's time to seek help. Your doctor may involve counselors, nutritionists and therapists in treatment, and provide follow-up care to address all aspects of the disorder. While you cannot force someone you know to seek help, you can help them by making them aware that they may have an eating disorder. Support them by encouraging them to get the help they need.

Eating Disorders in Children

Most instances of eating disorders emerge around puberty, making them a significant teen health issue. Thus, eating disorders in teens are much more frequent than those seen in prepubescent children. Children under two may engage in a type of disordered eating called pica, which is the eating of non-food items. This is only a concern if it continues past age two or reappears in older children or adults.

Eating disorders in teens need to be diagnosed and treated as different from their counterparts in adults. At such a critical stage in development, teens' bodies and brains are especially vulnerable to the effects of malnutrition and starvation. Early medical treatment is important to prevent outcomes such as stunted growth, delay of puberty and underdevelopment of the bones. Teens are also in a period of intense social and emotional maturation, so early recognition of eating disorders is important to ensure that these skills develop normally.

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