Two women, one resting on the other's shoulder

When most people hear of someone with an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia, they almost always automatically assume the person has a problem with food. This is quite understandable as eating disorders present themselves primarily as food-related behaviors. However, eating disorders are not a sign that a person has a problem with food; it is much more complicated than that. Rather, an eating disorder is actually a brain-based disorder which is characterized by abnormal food-related behaviors.

Research has established that there is a genetic basis for eating disorders in the same manner that there is for other prominent psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism. For example, individuals who have an immediate family member (e.g. mother, father, sibling) with an eating disorder are up to 11 times more likely to develop an eating disorder themselves.

While eating disorders are often poorly understood, they are probably more common than you think they are. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, as many as ten million Americans suffer from some type of eating disorder. These conditions can affect men and women of all ages, ethnicities, sexual orientation and body size or shape.

There are several types of eating disorders. The most common type is Binge Eating Disorder, a more newly discovered condition. Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa are the most well-known.

Having an eating disorder is commonly associated with other serious mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, alcohol and/or substance abuse, and thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts. These mental health symptoms sometimes precede the onset of an eating disorder, and, for some, develop in part as a result of the eating disorder.

Without proper treatment, eating disorders can be deadly; in fact, anorexia is considered the most deadly of all mental illnesses. This is because when a body does not have the nutrition that it needs over a prolonged period of time there will inevitably be a remarkable physical and mental decline. This can result in all sorts of complications and diseases that may result in death. Eating disorders don’t only affect the person diagnosed with the condition, either; they affect the entire family.

Some signs that you may have an eating disorder:

  • Dissatisfaction with your eating patterns
  • Eating in secret
  • Your weight affects how you feel about yourself
  • A family member has suffered with an eating disorder
  • You have made yourself sick because you felt too full
  • You worry that you have lost control over how much you eat
  • You have lost more than 10lbs in a 2-3 month period
  • You believe you are fat when others say you are thin
  • You feel that food dominates your life

If you have some of the signs listed above, please talk to one of us at CFM.  We can help diagnose the issue and get you support and treatment options.

With proper treatment people can fully recover. The first step is asking for help, and we are here to offer that to you.

Written by Lara J Gamelin, MD, with support from Mirror Mirror, Eating Disorder Help, a website developed for education and support of individuals with eating disorders.

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