Understanding Eating Disorders

According to the DSM-5, an eating disorder is a mental health disorder in which the patient fixates on food to the extent that the individual experiences psychological, social, and physical issues. There are an estimated 30 million people in the U.S. who will experience an eating disorder at some point. Women account for about two-thirds of that number.

Eating disorders often present with other mental health disorders including but not limited to GAD, OCD, and substance abuse. Eating disorders can also seriously impact a person’s health. If you believe that you or a loved one has an eating disorder, reach out to our offices to discuss your therapeutic options.

Types of Eating Disorders

The DSM-5 defines six different kinds of eating disorders:

  • Rumination disorder
  • Pica
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder
  • Binge Eating Disorder

In any of these disorders, the patient thinks about food and the act of consuming food so much that it interferes with daily life. Other symptoms vary widely, however, from one disorder to the next.

Anorexia Nervosa

  • Extreme restriction of calories
  • Overexercising
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Fear of being overweight even when underweight

Bulimia Nervosa

  • A cycle of binge eating then purging at least once a week for three months
  • Binging involves consuming an excessive amount of calories for 2 hours
  • Purging can happen via calorie restriction, overexercising, induced vomiting, and taking laxatives or diuretics
  • Body dysmorphia

Rumination Disorder

  • Chewing food but spitting it out instead of swallowing
  • No identifiable gastrointestinal disorder
  • Symptoms last for at least one month
  • No comorbid eating disorder


  • Consuming unusual non-food substances
  • No developmental or cultural cause

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

  • Strict monitoring of quantity and type of food one eats
  • Causes disturbances to physical or mental health
  • No body dysmorphia or fear of gaining weight

Binge Eating Disorder

  • Recurring episodes in which the individual consumes an unusual amount of food
  • Must occur at least once a week for at least three months

What Causes Eating Disorders?

As with other mental health issues, it can be difficult to identify the causes of an eating disorder. Most mental health professionals believe eating disorders stem from a combination of biological and emotional triggers.

If someone has preexisting mental health issues, such as low esteem, this can lead to an eating disorder, as well. Eating disorders are also prevalent amongst those who have perfectionist tendencies or engage in compulsive behaviors.

Eating disorders can affect anyone. Young women do, however, experience this disorder at higher rates than others.

Binge Eating Disorder Symptoms

The most common eating disorder in the U.S., binge eating disorder involves extended periods of excessive eating. While taking one or two pieces of cake at a party, for example, is common, someone with a binge eating disorder may eat the entire cake and then continue eating. Diagnostic criteria for the disorder include:

  • Rapid eating that goes beyond norms
  • Feelings of guilt or shame after the binge
  • Eating to the point of discomfort
  • Eating in secret because of guilt or shame
  • Eating when not hungry

In order to qualify as a binge eating disorder, the binges need to happen at least once a week for at least 90 days. Binge eating disorder does not involve any purging, as one sees with bulimia.

Treating Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder comes with a good deal of shame and embarrassment, causing many patients to avoid treatment. It is important for anyone suffering from binge eating disorder to understand that they need treatment and that compassionate therapists are here to help. Treatments such as therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes can all aid a binge eating patient in stopping negative patterns and returning to a healthier way of life.

Patients who engage in therapy for binge eating disorder might take part in CBT, dialectical behavioral therapy, or individual psychotherapy. Group therapy may also be available and effective for these patients.

Some medications, such as lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Vyvanse) have been shown to have an effect on binge eating disorder. They may, however, come with the risk of addiction; as such, doctors typically only prescribe them when other interventions do not work.

There are also lifestyle changes that can make a difference for patients, including:

  • Not following diet trends or fads
  • Bonding with friends and family
  • Eating a healthy breakfast
  • Engaging in exercise
  • Not buying trigger foods

Eating Disorder Treatment Centers

Eating disorders can have a dangerous effect on an individual’s physical health. If you or someone you love has signs of an eating disorder, it is crucial that they receive help for their condition.

Cultural stigma around these disorders prevents many from getting treatment. Anyone considering treatment should understand that trained mental health professionals do not pass judgment and deliver care with objectivity and respect.

Contact our offices so that we can evaluate your symptoms and recommend treatment options that work for you.