This past week was National Eating Disorders Association Awareness Week. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) supports those affected by eating disorders and educates the public about various types of eating disorders. These disorders are more common than most people think. That’s because people who have eating disorders are so secretive. Often even close family members, including spouses, don’t realize that their loved one is suffering from an eating disorder.
When most people think of eating disorders, they think of anorexia nervosa. This is probably the most well-known of the eating disorders. However, it’s not the only one. Bulimia and binge eating disorder are the other types. The most sensational cases get publicity. Most of us remember Karen Carpenter of the singing group, The Carpenters, who died of anorexia. However, there are many people suffering silently, perhaps not even aware that they actually suffer from a diagnosable eating disorder.
These are the most common types of eating disorders.
- Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by extreme fear of gaining weight. These women are severely underweight, and amazingly enough, they don’t recognize it. They completely lack insight into the fact that they are starving themselves. They may look like a concentration camp survivor to everyone else, but that isn’t what they see when they look into the mirror. According to NEDA, up to 1% of women in the US suffer from anorexia. Although there are men who suffer from anorexia, 95% of those with anorexia are women. Some people with anorexia will binge and then purge (purging behaviors cause the person to eliminate food already eaten, for example self-induced vomiting or using laxatives). About 5-20% of people with anorexia will die of the disorder.
- Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by binging and purging behaviors. In other words, large amounts of food are consumed, larger than what most people would consider normal. This is followed by purging, self-induced vomiting or use of laxatives. The hallmark of bulimia is a feeling of loss of control while eating. People with bulimia are very focused on appearance as a source of self-esteem, as are those with anorexia. Usually, however, the sense of loss of control and the amount of food consumed during a binge are what distinguishes bulimia from anorexia. People with bulimia usually do recognize that their eating behaviors are abnormal. They may not be extremely under or over weight. There are more males with bulimia than anorexia, though 80% of bulimic patients are still women.
- Binge Eating Disorder (BED) was recently recognized formally as an eating disorder. It is characterized by episodes of consuming large quantities of food, larger than what most people would consider normal, to the point of discomfort. The food is consumed rapidly, generally within 2 hours, and the binges occur at least weekly. People with BED do not usually compensate by purging. They do experience a sense of loss of control when binging. They usually feel terrible afterwards, and they may experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. BED is the most common eating disorder affecting 3.5% of women and 2% of men. BED is more evenly spread between the sexes with 60% being women and 40% men.
Eating disorders are treatable. Medication in addition to psychotherapy may be helpful. Recently a report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found several medications, including some antidepressants, Topamax (a seizure medication), and the stimulant vyvanse (used for attention-deficit disorder) particularly helpful for BED. In extreme cases, particularly in people with anorexia who are at dangerously low body weight, inpatient programs may be necessary. If you aren’t certain whether you have an eating disorder, go to mybodyscreening.org for an online screening tool. If you believe that you may have an eating disorder, check out the NEDA website at nationaleatingdisorders.org. They have great information about diagnostic criteria, treatment resources, and support.
Eating disorders, besides being potentially lethal, can cause many medical issues including heart and metabolic abnormalities. There is no shame in having an eating disorder. Remember almost 3 women and 2 men out of 10 suffer from an eating disorder. Get treatment today.