It is hard for people to understand that eating disorders are not a choice, they are not a lifestyle. Someone with an eating disorder is not trying to garner attention; they are not choosing to battle a life-altering mental health condition.
Eating disorders are an illness that takes control over someone as they struggle with disordered beliefs about their weight and shape, lack of self-esteem, and the constant societal emphasis placed on body image. Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are only some of the eating disorders affecting someone’s physical and mental health and lead to severe consequences.
How does an eating disorder begin?
Eating disorders don’t happen overnight; they can develop over the course of a few months or a few years. Like with any mental health condition, eating disorders, begin differently for each person. For some, it may be losing a few pounds and enjoying the way their body looks with less weight, for others it may be finding comfort in food, and still, for others, it may begin due to depression, stressful triggers, or trauma.
Those with anorexia have significant weight loss from restricting calories, often not realizing how underweight they may be and perceiving themselves as “fat,” despite a dangerously low body weight. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition and claims the lives of an estimated 10-20% individuals due to complications. Associated with a distorted sense of body image, anorexia is closely linked to depression.
Bulimia is characterized by cycles of binge eating followed by purging the body of unwanted calories. The sequence can be triggered by stress, anxiety, depression, and a lack of control. Individuals who have bulimia might feel regret after a binge, but find comfort and well-being following a purge. Purging can bring a sense of control and ease in the stress and anxiety someone may be feeling. Often consuming between 3,400 calories in as little as an hour or as many as 20,000 calories in eight hours, those with bulimia may repeat the cycle several times in a week.
Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. The frequent sessions of binge eating leaves individuals feeling out of control and ashamed, often leading to depression. Little is known about the cause of binge eating disorder or why it develops, but it is sometimes linked to genetic disposition, depression, anxiety, and weight discrimination.
While there is no one true cause, several combined factors can produce an eating disorder. Individuals with a family history of eating disorders are more likely to engage in eating disordered behaviors, as well as those who have a history of depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many experts believe eating disorders develop when neurotransmitters in the brain become unbalanced, one being serotonin, which has a central role in anxiety and depression, both common in anorexia and bulimia. Brain scans have shown that individuals with these disorders get too little of serotonin. Other contributing factors leading to eating disorders can include stress, anxiety, and substance abuse.
What about treatment?
Seeking treatment can be difficult, but can be successful in helping to recover from an eating disorder. Unfortunately, only 1 in 10 people with an eating disorder receive treatment. Eating disorders involve complex relationships between emotions, coping, food, control, and obsessions, making it difficult sometimes to recognize the problem. Many individuals, as well as their friends and family, do not see changes in eating behavior as a sign of an eating disorder. Letting go of established thought patterns and responses can be scary, and many months or years may slip by before taking the step to seek treatment.
Treatment, such as that at Magnolia Creek, can help the brain and the body heal and recover, providing someone with the ability to relearn and trust their thoughts and behaviors. Our holistic approach utilizes evidence-based therapy such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help clients:
- Eliminate eating disordered behaviors
- Identify adaptive skills to cope with life stressors
- Develop a healthy relationship with exercise
- Restore weight (within ideal body weight range)
- Establish healthy eating patterns a healthy relationship with food/fluids
- Practice food-related life skills (including grocery shopping, menu planning, cooking, and appropriately portioning food)
- Distinguish emotional and physical hunger/fullness cues
- Identify and challenge food/body related cognitive distortions
Our professional treatment team works with each client to develop a customized treatment plan that meets their individual needs and nourishes the body and strengthens the spirit. We look beyond the symptoms and behaviors of the eating disorder to help our clients recover, and not just manage their eating disorder.