Could You Have an Eating Disorder?

Featured Article,Healthy Living,Healthy Recipes and Nutrition,Nutrition,Weight Loss
October 11, 2011

Eating disorders aren’t just for teenagers—millions of adults have them too. How to recognize the signs, and get help.

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Eating disorders aren’t just for teenagers. Many of the estimated 10 million women and 1 million men in the U.S. with the problem are over age 40. But experts believe that most of those struggling in midlife with eating disorders have done so since adolescence without seeking treatment, or that their disorders were in remission. Stressful issues such as empty nest syndrome, divorce, loss of parents, widowhood, retirement, and chronic illness or disability could prompt an eating disorder to resurface in a woman during midlife, as stress is a widely recognized trigger.

All eating disorders can be life threatening, so it’s important to recognize the warning signs and seek treatment. Here are the most common eating disorders and how to know whether your eating behaviors might be steering close to danger territory.

Binge eating disorder

What it is: According to the Binge Eating Disorder Association, binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder. It’s often part of vicious cycle of feeling moody or depressed, then turning to food to help you feel better, then feeling bad about overeating, hence returning to the negative mood.

Warning signs:

  • Rapidly eating in a short period of time an amount of food that is considerably larger than would be considered normal
  • A feeling of being out of control
  • Feeling uncomfortably full after eating
  • Eating large amounts of food when not hungry
  • Feeling disgusted, guilty or depressed about bingeing afterwards. 
  • Weight gain: People suffering with BED tend to gain weight due to overeating although this is not always the case.   

 

Official criteria for diagnosing BED say a person must have had, on average, at least two binge-eating episodes a week for at least six months. New criteria set to be released in 2013 will lower the frequency to once a week for at least three months.

 

RELATED: What is Your Ideal Weight?

 

Anorexia Nervosa

What it is: More than 90 percent of those affected with anorexia are adolescent and young women. Males, young children and women 50 and older have also been diagnosed with the disorder, however.

Warning signs: The National Eating Disorder Association lists the following as warning signs of anorexia.

  • Dramatic weight loss.
  • Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams and dieting.
  • Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g. no carbohydrates, etc.).
  • Frequent comments about feeling “fat” or overweight despite weight loss.
  • Anxiety about gaining weight or being “fat.”
  • Denial of hunger.
  • Development of food rituals (e.g. eating foods in certain orders, excessive chewing, rearranging food on a plate).
  • Consistent excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food.
  • Excessive, rigid exercise regimen–despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury, the need to “burn off” calories taken in.
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
  • In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting and control of food are becoming primary concerns.

 

RELATED: Conquer Your Food Addiction

Bulimia Nervosa

What it is: Bingeing followed by behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the binge eating is the hallmark of bulimia nervosa.

Warning signs:

  • Binge eating
  • Purging behaviors, such as vomiting and use of laxatives or diuretics.
  • Excessive, rigid exercise regimen–despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury, the need to “burn off” calories taken in.
  • Creation of lifestyle schedules or rituals to make time for binge-and-purge sessions.
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
  • In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting and control of food are becoming primary concerns.

 

Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified

What it is: When individuals don’t meet the official criteria for binge eating disorder, anorexia or bulimia, they may still have an eating disorder. One such disorder is orthorexia, which is characterized by an exaggerated concern with healthy eating. While not an official designation, orthorexia is increasingly recognized as a problem for many people. Orthorexia is considered an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS).

Warning signs:

  • Excessive drive to be thin.
  • Extremely disturbed body image.
  • Restriction of calorie intake to unnatural and unhealthy limits.
  • Excessive concern with healthy eating.
  • Excessive, rigid exercise regimen.
  • Withdrawal from social encounters.

 

If you suspect you might have an eating disorder, seek help from a qualified health practitioner who can accurately diagnose and help treat or help you find treatment.  This resource list from the Binge Eating Disorder Association can get you started.

 

Marsha Hudnall, RD, MS, CD, is a nationally known nutritionist with more than 25 years experience as a weight management specialist. She is the owner and program director of Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women’s retreat that is much more than a weight loss spa.  Green Mountain has helped thousands of women manage binge eating.  She serves on several boards and has authored seven books on health and healthy weights.

 

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