Eating Disorders: When Food Becomes a Problem

Eating disorders occur when individuals experience severe disturbances in their eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. People with eating disorders typically become preoccupied with food and their weight. An eating disorder is categorized as a behavioral addiction and is linked to mental health conditions. Eating becomes a problem when it continues despite negative consequences, loss of control, and frequent relapse associated with a behavioral addiction.

Types of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders come in many forms, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating. In any form, an eating disorder can cause physical deformities, impairment, obesity, heart failure, and early death. People who suffer from anorexia avoid food because they have a distorted perception of how they look to others. The lack of food and nutrition causes extreme weight loss, hair loss, organ failure, and death.

Anorexia can develop in anyone due to many factors but is statistically more prevalent in adolescent women. The National Alliance on Mental Illness states, “The emotional symptoms of anorexia include irritability, social withdrawal, lack of mood or emotion, not able to understand the seriousness of the situation, fear of eating in public and obsessions with food and exercise.”

When a person has bulimia, they binge and purge or restrict and purge to avoid gaining weight. Bulimia can cause serious health complications, such as acid reflux, dehydration, heart failure, and death. It can also lead to tooth decay from the stomach’s acid that comes up with the food. A person who has bulimia is at risk of developing severe physical impairments and health problems.

A binge eating disorder involves a person who eats large amounts of food within a short time. People with this type of eating disorder eat when they are not even hungry or when uncomfortably full. A binge eating disorder puts a person at high risk of obesity and other physical health impairments.

Health Problems Associated with Eating Disorders

According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, co-occurring psychiatric disorders, especially anxiety disorders, substance use-related disorders, and personality disorders, are often found in patients with an eating disorder.

Eating disorders display similar characteristics of a drug or alcohol addiction. These addictive behaviors are self-destructive, harmful, and deadly. When a person suffers from an eating disorder, they lose control and their ability to stop the behavior. Eating disorders are related to some of the psychological effects of starvation, which appear to be similar to symptoms of addiction. They can be irritable, depressed, and overeat or avoid food as a response to stress.

The causes of developing an eating disorder or addiction are very similar to those of substance use disorder. Social pressure, impulsivity, stress, and emotional trauma put a person at risk of behavioral addiction. Eating disorders and addiction develop from stressful situations as a way to cope with emotional problems.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Seeking help for an eating disorder along with co-occurring disorders is essential to healing. Eating disorders can appear alongside depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more.

Anxiety is a term used to encompass several disorders that affect nervousness, apprehension, and fear. Types of anxiety disorders can include panic disorders, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder can have physical, emotional, behavioral, or cognitive effects. Eating disorders and anxiety disorders can co-exist. Many people may use eating as a way to cope with the intense feelings that can accompany anxiety.

Depression is a mood disorder characterized by intense feelings of sadness, worthlessness, or guilt. It can affect many aspects of life, including thoughts, feelings, and overall wellbeing. Symptoms may include low energy levels, feelings of self-hate or insignificance, and changes in appetite. As with anxiety disorders, someone may control their food intake, restrict types of foods consumed, or feel like they must “earn” food to cope with the symptoms of depression.

OCD is a type of anxiety disorder in which individuals experience repeated thoughts, feelings, sensations, behaviors, or ideas that lead them to engage in a repeated habit or compulsion. Most individuals suffering from OCD often experience obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, such as irrational fears. OCD is often connected with eating disorders, especially since many behaviors between the two disorders may overlap, such as obsessive thoughts about food or food rituals.

PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder that may develop due to exposure to an event that results in psychological trauma. Such events can include anything that might overwhelm a person’s ability to cope, such as the unexpected death of a loved one or physical abuse. Men or women who have PTSD have an increased likelihood of developing an eating disorder, as eating disorder behaviors can become a means of coping with experiences related to PTSD.

Eating disorders occur when individuals experience severe disturbances in their eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. There are several eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. The development of an eating disorder may directly result from a mental health disorder or substance use disorder. Treating both as a dual diagnosis is essential to the healing process. Addressing both conditions simultaneously will help address underlying issues and promote healing. At Achieve Concierge, our expert medical clinicians are dedicated to patient care and support, learning about a patient, and offering comprehensive mental health services as part of a total wellness experience. Providing psychiatric services and care, neuropsychology, adult and child psychology, naturopathic care, yoga instruction, and many other professionals and clinical services, Achieve Concierge can engage each patient from various treatment perspectives. We provide individualized support to help you cope with mental health and difficult life events. We have same-day appointments in person, as well as telemedicine appointments. To find out more about Achieve Concierge and the services we provide, call us today at (619) 393-5871.

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