Recovering From Disordered Eating

All people need to eat in order to survive and maintain vital body functions. However, it is common to also use food for other purposes. Some of the non-health related reasons for eating will not harm you, especially if you practice moderation. However, millions of Americans have much more problematic relationships with food. Some of these issues cause serious harm and support the development of eating disorders. 

People with eating disorders have severe problems with emotions, thoughts and behaviors related to eating. The nature of those problems varies from illness to illness. But all conditions in this category can have major negative consequences for you health. 

Eating disorders share something else in common: they are treatable. With the proper care, you can establish a new, healthier relationship to eating. In turn, a healthier outlook on food forms the cornerstone for stability and increased personal well-being.

What Is an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are a group of illnesses classified together in a single category of mental health conditions. Each of these illnesses is distinct from the other. However, they share common core features. These defining features are:

  • Prolonged, severe and damaging behaviors around food and eating
  • The presence of extremely discomforting emotions regarding these same topics
  • Patterns of dysfunctional thinking that accompany those behaviors and emotions

The impact of an eating disorder can be enormous. Almost every aspect of your ability to thrive and function may suffer from its effects. In a worst-case scenario, these conditions may be fatal without effective treatment. 

As many as 5 percent of all Americans have an eating disorder. Symptoms typically begin to appear when you are a teenager or young adult. Your symptoms may also appear at a younger or older age. Overall, the people most likely to develop one of these disorders are women between that ages of 12 and 35. Still, this does not mean that men are not affected. Some types of these illnesses are more gender-imbalanced than others.

Types of Eating Disorders

There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. 


Anorexia is characterized by a highly distorted view of your body weight. Even if you are well below the norm for your height and build, you perceive yourself as overweight. As a result, you take often extreme measures to reach a lower weight. That includes such things as:

  • Heavily restricting your food intake
  • Exercising to an extreme degree
  • Purging the food you do eat by taking laxatives or vomiting after a meal

People with anorexia die at a higher rate than people with any other mental illness. That includes all conditions, not just eating disorders. Some people die from starvation or related changes in their bodies. Others die from suicide or specific things they do to control their weight.


If you have bulimia, you do two main things. First, you frequently lose control over your eating and consume food in extreme amounts. Afterward, you take what are often drastic measures to compensate for that heavy intake. Some people do this by making themselves vomit after they eat. The resulting pattern is sometimes known as a binge-purge cycle. Other actions you may take include:

  • Exercising excessively
  • Using laxatives
  • Taking a diuretic, or water pill
  • Going on periodic fasts

Because these actions are taken, people with bulimia are often not overweight. Instead, they have a wide range of body weights. 

Binge-Eating Disorder, or BED

Like people with bulimia, people with binge-eating disorder go on intense food binges. However, they do not take steps to compensate for these episodes. For this reason, a high body weight is common in those affected. More Americans have BED than any other eating disorder.

Other Conditions

There are also several additional types of eating disorders, including:

  • Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder – People with this condition develop extremely selective eating habits. This means that they avoid most foods and restrict their intake of others. As a result, they fail to meet their nutritional needs. 
  • Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder – This category is for people who do not meet the criteria for diagnosing any other type of eating disorder
  • Pica – People with pica have a pattern of eating non-food items that do not contain life-sustaining nutrients. Their actions produce health problems that are damaging enough to require medical care. 
  • Rumination Disorder – People with this condition swallow their food, regurgitate it and chew it again. It can only be diagnosed in someone unaffected by another eating disorder. 

Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Each eating disorder has its own typical symptoms. For example, classic symptoms of anorexia include:

  • An extreme fear of weight gain
  • A perceived body image that varies widely from reality
  • An altered sense of self-esteem based on that body image
  • An unyielding commitment to getting thinner
  • Lack of any desire to maintain a healthy body weight

Potential physical consequences of these symptoms include:

  • Dry skin with a sallow or yellowed appearance
  • Unusually brittle nails and hair
  • Lingering feelings of fatigue
  • An extreme case of constipation
  • The development of a fine layer of body hair
  • Loss of muscle tissue
  • Low body temperate and blood pressure
  • A slow heartbeat and breathing rate

Over time, anorexia can damage your heart and brain. It can also lead to the failure of multiple organs. These facts help explain why the illness can be so lethal.

Symptoms of bulimia may include:

  • Chronic throat inflammation and pain
  • Gastrointestinal conditions like acid reflux
  • Tooth damage caused by acids in your stomach
  • Major intestinal discomfort
  • Medically serious dehydration
  • Serious changes in your normal electrolyte levels

Some people develop electrolyte problems severe enough to trigger a heart attack or stroke.

Common symptoms of binge-eating disorder include:

  • Seeking out food when hunger is totally absent
  • Eating way past your satiation or “full” mark
  • Avoiding people when you eat
  • Experiencing shame or other disquieting emotions as a result of your eating
  • Gaining substantial and unhealthy amounts of weight

Eating Disorder Causes and Risk Factors

There is no one thing that leads to the development of an eating disorder. Instead, these illnesses have multiple, overlapping causes. Things that may play a role in your specific situation include:

  • Details of your genetic background
  • Attitudes and perceptions common among your peers
  • Things you learn about eating and weight from your society or culture 
  • The presence of perfectionism and certain other personality traits
  • Your gender and age
  • Involvement in frequent dieting
  • Periods of high or persistent stress 

Eating Disorders Diagnosis

Eating Disorder Diagnosis

If you think you are affected, you may decide to take a “do I have and eating disorder” quiz. Such a test can give you a rough idea of your situation. However, it is not a substitute for an official diagnosis.

To be diagnosed with an eating disorder, you must meet the criteria used by mental health experts. This means that you must receive a professional evaluation. An evaluation of this type makes it possible to gather detail regarding your symptoms and personal history. Your evaluation will also help reveal any additional mental illnesses. This is important, since such illnesses often occur alongside eating disorders. 

Along with your mental health evaluation, you will go through a physical exam. The results of this exam help determine if your symptoms have other realistic explanations. They also provide a good idea of your overall health. 

Addiction and Eating Disorders

If you have an eating disorder, you may also have problems with drug or alcohol addiction. Such an overlap of illnesses is known as dual diagnosis. Certain mental illnesses are more common in people with dual diagnosis than others. Eating disorders are not on this list of likely conditions. However, that does not mean that the problem cannot occur. If you are affected by dual diagnosis, you will need help for both your eating disorder and your substance abuse. 

Eating Disorder Treatment and Therapy Options

The treatment of eating disorders is often complex. That is true, in part, because these conditions can do much more than harm your mental health. It is also true because people with eating disorders:

  • Often have additional mental health issues like depression
  • Can become suicidal


As with most mental illnesses, psychotherapy and medication are typical parts of a treatment plan. Family-based therapy is common. You may also take part in cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. This technique helps you undo damaging patterns of thinking and behaving that support your illness. It also helps you create positive replacement patterns.

Medication of Eating Disorders

Several types of medication may help improve your eating disorder symptoms or any additional problems. Options your receive may include a mood stabilizer or an antipsychotic medication. You may also benefit from an antidepressant.

Additional Resources

Besides doctors and therapists, your treatment team may include other professionals. Nutritional counselors are particularly important. These specialists will help you gradually return to a healthy pattern of eating. If your eating disorder has damaged your physical health, you may also need medical treatment to deal with these issues. 

Learn More About Recovery From Eating Disorders

It is possible to make a full recovery from an eating disorder. However, time is of the essence. The sooner you get treated, the higher the odds that you will avoid any severe health complications. That includes reducing your risks for suicide.

The experts at Emerald Isle provide the help you need to recover from eating disorders. We offer thorough evaluations that will reveal the presence of any of these illnesses. We also feature customized treatment plans that fit your personal situation and your specific condition. To learn more about your recovery options, contact us today.