Don’t Let an Eating Disorder Derail Your Life

With so much emphasis in our culture on thinness, no wonder women are worried about how their bodies measure up. While it’s good to maintain a healthy weight, being obsessed by an unrealistic goal can lead to serious — even deadly — results.

Most Common Eating Disorders

While eating disorders can occur in both sexes, women are much more likely to be affected by this condition. Eating disorders can lead to heart and kidney problems and, in severe cases, death. They often start during the teenage years, and may be linked to depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse. The most common are:

  • Don’t Let an Eating Disorder Derail Your Life smallAnorexia: Anorexics are obsessed with becoming thin, and severely restrict what they eat to the point of starvation. They have a distorted body image and think they’re fat, even when they’re dangerously thin.
  • Bulimia: Bulimics overeat huge amounts of food, followed by purging — usually by making themselves vomit, misusing laxatives or exercising obsessively. They may also follow an extremely restricted diet in between binges. Many bulimics are of normal weight.
  • Binge Eating: Similar to bulimics, binge eaters experience out-of-control eating — gorging on excessive amounts of food until they are uncomfortably full — but do not purge. They may then go on an extreme diet. Binge eaters can be of normal weight, overweight or obese.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

Experts don’t know exactly what triggers an eating disorder. Anorexia, for example, may begin with regular dieting, but over time morphs into extreme and unhealthy weight loss. Likewise, the cause of bulimia is not known. The way our culture values people based on their weight and size is part of the picture. There also appears to be a genetic link as eating disorders often run in families.

Who Is Most at Risk?

They often start during the teenage years, and may be linked to depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse.

If an eating disorder is disrupting your life, you’re not alone. In fact, at least 8 million people in the U.S. are affected by an eating disorder. The vast majority — about 90 percent — are women and girls.

  • Anorexics are more likely to come from families with a history of certain health problems — like weight issues, physical illness and mental health problems, including depression and substance abuse.
  • Bulimics are most likely to come from families with a history of eating disorders, physical illness and mental problems. Substance abuse, anxiety disorders and mood disorders are also common.
  • Binge eaters are mostly adolescent girls and young adult women, although this disorder can also affect older women and males of any age.

Taking part in certain sports and activities that focus on body shape and size, like ballet, cheerleading and gymnastics, can also increase risk.

How Are Eating Disorders Treated?

Most cases of eating disorders can be treated successfully by health and behavioral health care professionals. Treatment can depend on your age, overall health, medical history and symptoms.

  • Medical Care: You may need urgent medical care for physical problems. Nutrition counseling can steer you toward more healthy food choices, and get you back to a normal weight.
  • Therapy: Counseling can help you learn how to deal with emotions in a healthier way. Consider individual or family therapy that focuses on changing your behavior and correcting any nutritional problems. And your family can also play a critical role in your treatment process.
  • Medication: You may be prescribed an antidepressant or antianxiety medicine to treat a mental health problem.
Small Steps: Watch the Caffeine
Drink coffee, tea and soft drinks in moderation, as caffeine may decrease the calcium absorption you need for strong bones.