An Introduction to Eating Disorders

By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
14 Sep 2000

Eating disorders are one of the unspoken secrets that permeate many families. Millions of Americans are afflicted with this disorder every year, and most of them -- up to 90 percent -- are adolescent and young women. Rarely talked about, an eating disorder can affect up to 5 percent of the population of teenage girls.

Why are adolescent and young women so susceptible to getting an eating disorder? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it is because during this period of time, women are more likely to diet to try and keep a slim figure and/or try stringent dieting. Certain sports (such as gymnastics) and careers (such as modeling) are especially prone to reinforcing the need to keep a fit figure, even if it means purging food or not eating at all.

Anorexia nervosa is the name for simply starving yourself because you are convinced you are overweight. If you are at least 15 percent under your normal body weight and you are losing weight through not eating, you may be suffering from this disorder.

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by excessive eating, and then ridding yourself of the food by vomiting, abusing laxatives or diuretics, taking enemas, or exercising obsessively. This behavior of ridding yourself of the calories from consumed food is often called "purging."

A person who suffers from this disorder can have it go undetected for years, because the person's body weight will often remain normal. "Binging" and "purging" behavior is often done in secret and with a great deal of shame attached to the behavior. It is also the more common eating disorder.

Eating disorders are serious problems and need to be diagnosed and treated like any medical disease. If they continue to go untreated, these behaviors can result in future severe medical complications that can be life-threatening.

Treatment of eating disorders nearly always includes cognitive-behavioral or group psychotherapy. Medications may also be appropriate and have been found effective in the treatment of these disorders, when combined with psychotherapy.

If you believe you may be suffering from an eating disorder or know someone who is, please get help. Once properly diagnosed by a mental health professional, such disorders are readily treatable and often cured within a few months' time.

A person with an eating disorder should not be blamed for having it! The disorders are caused by a complex interaction of social, biological and psychological factors which bring about the harmful behaviors. The important thing is to stop as soon as you recognize these behaviors in yourself, or to get help to begin the road to recovery.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Oct 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.
-- Eleanor Roosevelt