Understanding the Symptoms, Causes, and Risks Factors
Eating disorders disrupt the lives of millions of people around the world each day. Disordered eating is unique because of its impact on someone’s psychological, nutritional, and physical health.
But there is hope. Eating disorders are treatable.
There is a wide range of difficulties that can accompany eating disorders. Some of these may include behavioral issues and dysfunctional thinking patterns, eating habits, and beliefs. Eating disorders may also cause physical symptoms, impaired mood, and disruptions to social relationships.
What is an Eating Disorder?
Individuals with eating disorders may have unhealthy and potentially life-threatening obsessions and fears about food, physical appearance, and weight. Once disordered eating behaviors and unhealthy thought patterns become out of control, that person has likely developed an eating disorder.
And they need help. While eating disorders are treatable, they don’t go away on their own.
Eating Disorders: Signs and Symptoms
Despite popular belief, you can’t tell if someone is battling an eating disorder simply by their appearance. Anyone of any gender, weight, shape, or size can have an eating disorder. Someone who doesn’t look underweight could be struggling with an eating disorder that is just as life-threatening as someone who is.
Maybe someone you love doesn’t “look” like they are suffering from an eating disorder, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders (ANAD) , less than 6% of people with an eating disorder are medically underweight.
It’s also crucial to note that eating disorders are not a “girl thing.” Don’t disregard the boys and men in your life. They can develop an eating disorder, too.
What an eating disorder may look like:
- Eating too much
- Eating too little
- Obsession with exercise
- Obsession with food & weight
- Constant concerns about body image
- Change in mood or behavior
- Isolating after meals
- Refusing to participate in social meals
- Comments about weight, shape, & size
- Changes in exercise patterns
- Using the bathroom immediately following meals
- Weight fluctuations
- Cutting out or avoiding certain foods or food groups (for weight loss)
- Following social media influence(r)s that may promote disordered eating
- Using electronic devices to monitor nutrition intake
Risk Factors for Developing an Eating Disorder
Eating disorders involve a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural influences. Not everyone who develops an eating disorder has the same perspective, symptoms, or experiences leading to their illness. However, research tells us there are several common risk factors and causes of eating disorders.
Biological Risk Factors
- Close relatives with eating disorders: If you have an immediate family member like a sibling or parent with an eating disorder, you may be at higher risk.
- Close relatives with other mental health issues: Like any mental health condition, if you have a close relative with anxiety, depression, or addiction, you may be at increased risk for developing an eating disorder.
- History of dieting: If you’ve put yourself on strict diets to control your weight in the past, you put yourself at risk for developing an eating disorder.
Psychological Risk Factors
- Body image concerns: Negative body image is a widespread issue in our culture. Those who develop eating disorders report higher levels of body image concerns and are more likely to internalize their idea of the “ideal” weight, shape, or size.
- History of anxiety: Two-thirds of people diagnosed with anorexia have shown symptoms of at least one anxiety disorder before their diagnosis. These could include obsessive-compulsive disorder, social phobias, or generalized anxiety disorder.
- Perfectionism: Self-oriented perfectionism, or setting unrealistically high expectations for yourself, is a significant risk factor for developing an eating disorder.
Sociocultural Risk Factors
- Unhealthy weight stigma: Discrimination or stereotyping based on weight is called “weight stigma,” and is incredibly damaging. Unfortunately, many in our society deem thinner as “better.”
- Bullying: 60% of those with eating disorders have been or are being bullied about their weight, shape, and size. If you’ve ever been the victim of bullying related to your body, you may be more likely to develop an eating disorder.
- Limited social connections: Eating disorders are known to be a disease of disconnection. This may be associated with other mental health challenges, causing you to isolate yourself from others.
- Trauma: Those with a past trauma history may be at increased risk for disordered eating.
- Competition: Some sports like diving, ballet, gymnastics, wrestling, rowing, and long-distance running emphasize maintaining a lean body to deliver optimal performance. To achieve this goal, participants may develop patterns of behavior that can lead to an eating disorder.
Our Approach to the Treatment of Eating Disorders
Our treatment team of eating disorder experts is ready to help you address your eating disorder, work through your struggles, and help you LiveWell. The sooner you seek the help you need, the better.
Recovery is possible.
In our LiveWell intensive outpatient treatment program (IOP), you or your loved one get the tools and support you need to face your eating disorder and get on the path to recovery.