An eating disorder is a serious condition characterized by typical or extreme eating behaviors and can include significant distress regarding one’s body weight or shape. At least 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life. It can often disrupt the person’s life and lead to tragic psychological and medical consequences. Eating disorders have the highest death rate of all mental disorders, and research has shown that one person dies as a result of an eating disorder every hour. Eating disorders can happen to anyone of any age, gender, race, ethnicity, or class.
The Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) has identified specific eating disorders and their symptoms in order to help professionals effectively identify and treat these conditions. Below is a list of the types eating disorders, with the first three being the most common:
Eating disorders are complex conditions that are often the result of many different factors. It is important for loved ones to know that they are not the cause, and that an eating disorder develops from a multitude of factors unique to each person. They can include:
Although the focus seems to be on food, eating disorders are about much more than food. Individuals who suffer from eating disorders are often highly sensitive, so they might experience feelings, events, and major life changes more intensely. The food might be a way for the individual to cope with overwhelming emotions or stress and can provide a temporary distraction. Additionally, it may be a way for an individual to communicate or express their emotional experiences to others.
Eating disorders can lead to life-threating medical and psychological consequences, and they often co-exist with other conditions, such as depression or anxiety. If an individual is struggling with an eating disorder, it is difficult for them to recover without professional help. Only about one third of people with an eating disorder ever receive treatment, and 87% of adolescents with one go untreated. Experts have found that early intervention can significantly improve an individual’s chance of recovery. With help from a team of specialists, an individual with an eating disorder can be successfully treated with long-term recovery.