This past week marked National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, a week dedicated to preventing eating disorders and body image issues by increasing awareness and treatment options, and decreasing the stigmas attached.

Millions of people suffer with eating disorders in the United States. Though typically seen as only affecting females, males make up 15% of clients with anorexia or bulimia, and about half of clients with binge eating disorder.

There are three main types of eating disorders, though there are multiple combinations of symptoms that may be classified as eating disorders not otherwise specified.

Anorexia nervosa is a serious, potentially life threatening eating disorder marked by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. There are four main symptoms of anorexia: resistance to maintaining minimal body weight at or above normal for one’s ages and height; disturbance in body image; intense fear of gaining weight; and loss of menstrual period in girls and women post-puberty. The majority of those who suffer with anorexia are girls and women. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition.

Bulimia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening disorder characterized by cyclical and recurring pattern of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors such as laxative or diuretic abuse, self-induced vomiting, or over-exercising. The three main symptoms of bulimia are: regular intake of large amounts of food with the feeling of a loss of control over eating behavior; regular use of extreme compensatory behaviors such as over-exercising, laxative abuse, or self-induced vomiting; and extreme concern of body weight and shape. People struggling with bulimia are typically of average body weight, and the majority of sufferers are female. Bulimia can lead to health consequences such as esophageal rupture, electrolyte imbalances, and chronic irregular bowel movements.

Binge-eating disorder is the most prevalent eating disorder in the US. While it is currently classified as an eating disorder not otherwise specified, binge eating disorder is currently being considered as its own diagnostic category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V. Binge eating disorder is characterized by four main symptoms: recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food in short amounts of time; feeling out of control over the eating behavior; feeling disgusted and ashamed by the eating; and other indicators such as eating in secret and eating when not hungry. Estimates show that about 40% of the sufferers are male, while 60% are female. There are serious potential health problems related to binge eating disorder such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and gallbladder disease.

Those with eating disorders often have dual diagnosis with other mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and self-injury. Because of the complex nature of eating disorders, treatment must be comprehensive and thorough. Most sufferers will need, at the very least, a combination of individual therapy, group therapy, a 12 step support group and a dietitian. Clients often find the most success in finding an inpatient or residential treatment center – safe environments in which to focus on learning healthy eating behaviors.

If you or someone you know struggles from an eating disorder, please don’t hesitate to contact The Way Out for more information. We are here to help you find the best treatment available for you or your loved ones.

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