Eating Disorders

30 million Americans. That’s how many people have struggled with an eating disorder at some point in their lives, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. This number includes millions of women and men.

California is not immune to this disorder. Many people of all ages try to cope with anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and binge-eating disorder, which are the most common forms of eating disorders today.

Eating disorders are often accompanied by or caused by other conditions. Some may be struggling with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, or a personality disorder. These co-occurring disorders must be treated at the same time as the eating disorder to avoid relapse.

Before treatment can begin, however, it’s essential to understand each type of eating disorder, including the symptoms, to choose the right treatment path.


Most people think of anorexia as someone starving themselves to the point that the body appears emaciated. However, many other aspects of this disorder can affect development, psychological, and whole-body health.

Anorexia is a fear of being overweight. The fear can grow until a person feels they need to starve themselves or over-exercise to maintain a below-normal weight. They may not realize the dangers of being underweight at first. And people trying to hide an eating disorder are very good at using oversized clothing, layering their clothes, or padding themselves.

Over time, all parts of the body suffer from malnutrition. For women with anorexia, menstrual periods may cease. For men and women, dizziness, fainting, dehydration, digestive problems, bruising, hair and skin abnormalities, and low body temperature can occur.

Depression, anxiety, compulsions, social isolation, and extreme guilt are often apparent in those with anorexia.

To heal from anorexia, the body must first be restored to a healthy balance. Anorexia disrupts brain chemistry, hormone balance, and essential functions. However, once medically treated, recovery can take place.


Avoiding weight gain is the goal with bulimia, too; only people with this disorder reach their goal with a process of over-eating, followed by purging. By over-eating, it means a person will gorge on foods, any foods, to try and satisfy an urge. The amount of food, calories, or type of food is a consideration during bingeing.

Once the binge is complete, an overwhelming feeling of guilt and shame take over. These negative feelings lead a person to eliminate the food they ingested, and quickly before calories are absorbed. Purging typically means vomiting. If someone continually spends long periods in the bathroom after eating, there may be a reason for concern.

But don’t let that be your only clue. Some bulimics will vomit into plastic bags and hide them throughout the house to avoid getting caught.

Further, some may choose to participate in excessive exercise or fasting rather than purging.

Bad breath, dental cavities, ulcers, dehydration, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, and mood swings are more apparent symptoms.

This disorder can lead to organs shutting down and, ultimately, death if left untreated. Once in treatment, both physical and mental health can be restored.


Orthorexia is a disorder that is not formally recognized as a diagnosable disorder yet, but it is rising. A person with orthorexia has an unhealthy obsession with “healthy eating.” It sounds hard to believe that focusing on healthy eating could become a danger, but it is true.

For some, eating healthy can become an obsession, followed by compulsive behaviors. For example, obsessive checking of food and nutrition labels, eliminating almost all food groups, including healthy carbs, which our bodies can use for energy.

When a person with orthorexia does not have access to the foods they want, they become distressed. They may become focused on what others consume, leading to most of their time spent on healthy eating.

Because this disorder is relatively new, treatment plans should be created with the help of a psychiatrist.

Binge Eating Disorder

To be diagnosed with binge eating disorder, three or more of the following must be present: eating a lot of food at once, much more than usual; even if you aren’t hungry, you overeat; you eat until you feel physically sick or uncomfortable; the desire to eat alone or in secret; or feelings of guilt or shame.

Even if you are experiencing just one of these symptoms, it’s essential to talk to a mental health professional. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can overcome a disorder.

Causes and Eating Disorder Treatment

The causes can range from genetics, emotional trauma, body image, and brain chemistry to co-occurring psychological disorders. An evaluation and treatment plan can ensure all issues are treated simultaneously.

Treatments like dialectical therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and certain medications have shown success in helping to overcome binge eating disorder and all other eating disorders.

Treatment should begin with a specialist trained in eating disorders, prescribing medicines, and making referrals to outside resources.

Treatment should include family therapy. All loved ones of a person with an eating disorder need to learn how to help in recovery. Also, treatment can consist of registered dieticians, medical professionals, and dental specialists. Any area affected by the eating disorder should be a focus in recovery.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy allows you to work with an eating disorder specialist in changing your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Dialectical therapy takes this one step further, teaching you how to regulate negative emotions healthily.

Depending on how long the eating disorder has persisted, different levels of treatment may be recommended. Some people may need long-term inpatient treatment to ensure the right amount and types of treatments are given.

Others may attend intensive outpatient programs, ongoing medical check-ups, day treatments, support groups, or all the above. The more time you spend in treatment, the lower risk for relapse.

During the healing process, you may find mindfulness therapies like yoga, acupuncture, meditation, acceptance, and commitment therapy are great additions to your recovery.

No matter what stage of an eating disorder you are in, it is never too late to start treatment. If you need help, reach out for professional advice today.

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