An eating disorder is a potentially life-threatening, complex illness, often with underlying issues that need to be addressed in order to get well. There are several different types of eating disorders, each with serious consequences for health, productivity and relationships.
People with anorexia nervosa (AN) have a great fear of gaining weight. They are obsessed with losing weight and becoming thin. They eat very little, or not at all, even though they are hungry. Their bodies begin to starve because they are not getting the nutrients they need to stay healthy resulting in serious medical consequences.
People with AN often have a distorted body image. They insist that they are too fat, even when family and friends know that they are dangerously skinny (source).
A person with Bulimia Nervosa (BN) is also extremely concerned with their body weight and shape and will diet and try to control what they eat, followed by episodes of eating a very large amount of food in a short period of time. This is called bingeing. To regain control and address feelings of shame and guilt after a binge a person with BN will often force themselves to vomit, take laxatives and/or diuretics, or exercise for hours to get rid of the calories. This is called purging. They purge because they are afraid they will gain weight (source), there are serious medical consequences for these actions.
Binge Eating Disorder
Individuals with binge eating disorders (BED) eat excessive amounts of food at one time. They do this for two main reasons:
- To feed extreme hunger as a result of food restriction
- To sooth themselves emotionally
People who binge-eat are often ashamed and embarrassed (source). The health risks of BED are most commonly those associated with clinical obesity.
Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder
Some people have many but not ALL of the symptoms of AN, BN or BED, but are not considered to be underweight. Many of the people treated for eating disorders in British Columbia have a diagnosis of an "other specified" eating disorder (source).
Eating disorders are treatable and there are a number of program options, working with different types of professionals ranging from mental health professionals to physicians to dietitians.
Treatment programs design plans for each individual and their specific needs, and vary from person to person; families are often involved in the recovery process. Check our resources for more information.