An unfortunate stigma surrounds disordered eating, and the medical and mental health challenges those with eating disorders face. Contrary to the regrettable opinions of some, eating disorders are real and potentially dangerous mental illnesses. They are not something that is voluntary nor “in the head” of the person who is suffering. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, or ANAD, provides statistics concerning the prevalence of disordered eating across the nation and many of the statistics they released in recent years are concerning.
In the United States, as many as 30 million people of all ages and genders struggle with at least one eating disorder. Without treatment, eating disorders can become fatal. Unfortunately, few people who could benefit from potentially lifesaving treatment at a treatment center like The Los Angeles Outpatient Center ever seek or receive the support they need. As a result, one person dies every 52 minutes in the United States due to disordered eating. Eating disorders continue to have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness (aside from opioid-related overdose), and they affect all races, ages, genders, and ethnic groups. Current research indicates a disproportionate number of LGBTQ individuals struggle with disordered eating. Unfortunately, eating disorders know no boundaries when it comes to who struggles. If you are concerned that a friend or loved one is struggling with disorder eating, it is vital to seek treatment to help ensure a safe and successful recovery.
Common Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions. It is not uncommon to need intensive professional support to overcome the symptoms related to disordered eating. While many people think of illnesses such as anorexia and bulimia when discussing disordered eating, there are many types of eating disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5). To understand how the types of therapies for disordered eating can benefit you or a loved one as part of a treatment program, it is first essential to understand the common types of eating disorders and the root causes behind these conditions.
Along with bulimia, anorexia is likely one of the most well-known eating disorders. It is characterized by extreme weight loss or improper weight gain in young children. Additionally, those with anorexia struggle to maintain appropriate wait for their height and age and often struggle with body image. Someone with anorexia will drastically restrict the number of calories they eat or the types of food they eat to control what they consider “unacceptable” weight gain. Some individuals will also turn to exercise or laxative abuse to further their weight loss. In some cases, ongoing efforts to reduce weight even when clinically underweight can lead to severe medical health problems, including heart failure and death from starvation.
Bulimia nervosa or bulimia is characterized by a continuous cycle of binge eating and purging. Purging is a behavior such as self-induced vomiting or laxative-induced bowel movements designed to “undo” the effects of binge eating. The long-term effects of bulimia can have detrimental impacts on the digestive system and lead to chemical imbalances, which can impact the heart and other major organs.
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake (ARFID)
Avoidant restrictive food intake was previously referred to as a selective eating disorder. It is similar to anorexia in that both conditions involve strict, self-imposed food restrictions. However, avoidant restrictive food intake does not include psychological distress about body image, size, or “being fat.” Adolescents and individuals with avoidant restrictive food intake disorders are often considered picky eaters who do not consume enough calories to grow or develop properly.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is thought to be one of the most common forms of disordered eating here in the United States. It often presents during adolescence in early adulthood. Someone with a binge eating disorder will experience symptoms similar to bulimia. They generally eat abnormally large amounts of food in short periods of time. Additionally, they cannot control how much they eat or how quickly they eat during binges. However, unlike bulimia, people with binge eating disorders do not use purging behaviors or other calorie restricting measures such as vomiting to compensate for binges.
Causes and Risk Factors for Disordered Eating
Unfortunately, the exact root cause behind disordered eating remains unknown. Like other mental illnesses, there is likely a combination of causes that may contribute to the development of various eating disorders. These include genetics and biology, as well as psychological and emotional health issues. Some people may have certain genetic factors that increase their risk of developing eating disorders. Additionally, changes in the brain and other biological factors may play a role. Individuals who struggle with perfectionism, complicated relationships, impulsivity, and reduced self-esteem are also at greater risk.
Disordered eating is more common among girls than boys; however, males can struggle with disordered eating. An individual with a family history of disordered eating is more likely to develop symptoms of eating disorders as they grow. Additionally, anxiety disorders, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorders increase one’s risk. Frequent dieting may also be a risk factor. Some research indicates that many of the symptoms of disordered eating are actually symptoms of starvation. When someone diets to the point of starvation, it alters how the brain functions. In someone vulnerable to self-esteem or self-image issues, this may further restrictive eating behaviors making it difficult for them to resume normal eating without the help of a professional treatment center like The Los Angeles Outpatient Center.
Eating Disorder Therapy Models
Behavioral therapies are commonly used to address symptoms of disordered eating. There are several common eating disorder therapy models used as part of evidence-based, comprehensive treatment programs. Below are a few of the most widely used. It is vital to remember that, like many mental health struggles, disordered eating impacts each person in unique ways. Therefore although one treatment program may be successful for one person, it may not help alleviate symptoms for someone else. The best treatment program is the one that fits your unique musicals. The treatment team at The Los Angeles Outpatient Center will work with you to determine the best course of treatment to help you overcome disordered eating and resume a healthy relationship with food.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT focuses on behaviors, thoughts, and feelings related to disordered eating. After helping the individual gain healthy eating behaviors, it helps them examine and work to understand the pattern of harmful or disordered thoughts that led to disordered eating. With a better understanding of the root causes of disordered eating, it is possible to recognize those thoughts in the future as well as change current thoughts that further self-image or self-esteem issues. Understanding triggering thoughts or triggering circumstances may also help prevent relapse in the future after treatment is complete.
Family-based therapy (FBT): During this therapy, family members learn to help restore healthy eating patterns and achieve a healthy weight until they can do it independently. This type of treatment can be especially beneficial for parents learning how to help a teen with an eating disorder.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): The goal of ACT is to focus on changing one’s actions and behaviors rather than their thoughts and feelings, as with cognitive-behavioral therapy. During ACT sessions, patients are taught to identify core values and commit to creating goals that fulfill these values.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Dialectical behavior therapy or DBT is a behavioral treatment supported by empirical evidence for the treatment of binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa. Dialectical behavior therapy assumes that the most effective place to begin therapy is with changing behaviors. Treatment focuses on developing skills to replace maladaptive eating disorder behaviors with safer, healthier alternatives.
Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: The psychodynamic approach follows that recovery from an eating disorder requires understanding its root cause. Psychodynamic psychotherapists view behaviors as a result of internal conflicts, motives, and unconscious forces. If behaviors are managed or stopped without addressing the underlying reasons driving them, then relapse will occur.
The intensity and duration of eating disorder therapy will depend on the individual. The therapeutic process can last from a few months to a few years. It will often include various
approaches, such as the ones listed above and others. Each eating disorder therapy provides a different level of support for the individual, ensuring that they have the level of treatment guidance they need to achieve recovery and maintain lasting recovery after treatment ends.
Eating disorders take the lives of millions of individuals each year. If you or a loved one struggles with disordered eating, it is vital to seek treatment to overcome symptoms. Without comprehensive medical and mental health care, the lasting effects of disordered eating can lead to potentially fatal medical complications. At The Los Angeles Outpatient Center, our treatment team will work with you to help design a treatment plan that addresses your physical, psychological, and spiritual needs throughout treatment. For many, the first step in eating disorder therapy is to address any underlying medical conditions that exist because of disordered eating. It is vital to address these conditions to ensure physical health is stable before beginning mental health therapy. Once your physical health is stabilized, you can begin participating in a comprehensive eating disorder therapy program.
At The Los Angeles Outpatient Center, we understand it can be challenging to acknowledge struggles with disordered eating and begin the process of seeking help to overcome symptoms. If you are concerned about a loved one or struggle with symptoms yourself, reach out to our admissions team today to learn more about how the staff at Los Angeles Outpatient Center can help you start your journey to recovery.