Eating disorders are so common in America that one to two of every 100 students will struggle with one.
Eating disorders are more than just going on a diet to lose weight or trying to exercise every day. They represent extremes in eating behavior and ways of thinking about eating -- the diet that never ends and gradually gets more restrictive, for example. Or the person who can't go out with friends because he or she thinks it's more important to go running to work off a snack eaten earlier.
Here is a table of common eating disorders:
People with anorexia fear weight gain and have a distorted body image. They restrict food intake with diets or fasting and compensate for it with vomiting, laxatives or excessive exercise.
Typical Weight: Dangerously underweight
Common Problems: Malnutrition, hair loss, fingernail breakage, lightheadedness, anemia
People with bulimia eat a large amount of food (often junk food) at once, usually in secret and feel powerless to stop. Most people with bulimia then purge by vomiting, but also may use laxatives or excessive exercise.
Typical Weight: Average weight or overweight
Common Problems: Stomach pain; tooth, stomach and kidney damage; permanently expanded salivary glands
Binge Eating Disorder
Those with binge eating disorder do not try to compensate by purging food after eating it. The person binges regularly on food (at least once a week, but typically more often).
Typical Weight: Typically overweight
Common Problems: Increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and other obesity-related problems
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
ARFID is often associated with "picky eating," but includes avoiding certain food colors or textures, having no appetite or being afraid to eat after a frightening episode of choking or vomiting.
Typical Weight: Underweight
Common Problems: Malnutrition, health issues associated with extreme thinness
What Causes Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are a complex combination of physical, emotional and social factors. Those with eating disorders are often also depressed or anxious, or have other mental health problems, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). There is also evidence that eating disorders may stem from family genetics or be influenced by family values.
Who is at Risk for Developing Eating Disorders?
Anyone may be at risk of developing an eating disorder. However, teens between 13 and 17 years old are at higher risk because puberty is a time of emotional and physical changes, academic pressures and a greater degree of peer pressure. Teens in sports are also at an increased risk of developing eating disorders because coaches, family members and others may encourage them to lose or gain weight, depending on the sport.
Effects of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are serious medical illnesses. They often go hand-in-hand with other problems such as stress, anxiety, depression and substance use. Eating disorders can lead to the development of serious physical health problems, such as heart conditions or kidney failure, which can lead to ER visits, hospital stays or, in extreme cases, death.
The emotional pain of an eating disorder can take its toll, too. When someone becomes obsessed with weight, it's hard to concentrate on much else. Being in a constant state of stress about food and how your body looks can make you withdrawn and less social.
Treatment for Eating Disorders
Fortunately, eating disorders can be treated. People with eating disorders can get well and gradually develop healthy eating habits again with the help of doctors, mental health professionals and dietitians.
If you want to talk to someone about eating disorders but are unable or not ready to talk to a parent or close family member, try reaching out to a friend, teacher, school nurse or counselor, coach, neighbor, doctor or other trusted adult.
Remember that eating disorders are very common among teens. Treatment options depend on each person and their families, but many treatments incorporate journaling, talking to therapists, and working with dietitians and other professionals.
Learning to be comfortable at your healthy weight is a process. It takes time to unlearn some behaviors and relearn others. Be patient, you can learn to like your body, understand your eating behaviors, and figure out the relationship between feelings and eating -- all the tools you need to feel in control and to like and accept yourself for who you are.