Feeding and Eating Disorders

Feeding and eating disorders are complex behavioral conditions defined by a significant and persistent disturbance in eating habits leading to health or psychosocial complications. Because their distinguishing symptoms are physical in origin, feeding and eating disorders can cause both emotional distress and serious medical complications. In addition, they have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder.

Feeding and eating disorders are frequently accompanied by obsessions with food, weight, or body shape, as well as anxieties about overeating or the repercussions of consuming particular foods. This condition is an extremely serious yet somewhat prevalent mental health disorder, especially in Western societies where thinness and physical attractiveness are heavily valued. Around 30 million people in the United States suffer from some form of eating disorder (20 million women and 10 million men).

Types of Feeding and Eating Disorders

Many different types of feeding and eating disorders exist, each with its own set of symptoms and diagnostic criteria. The DSM-5 officially recognizes the following forms of feeding and eating disorders

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa – Those who suffer from an eating disorder known as anorexia nervosa tend to be underweight relative to their height and age because they starve themselves. Anorexia is a potentially fatal eating disorder with the highest mortality rate of any mental health diagnosis, second only to opioid use disorder. Adults with anorexia nervosa often have a body mass index (BMI) below 18.5, a measure of weight relative to height.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa – Those who suffer from bulimia nervosa will often cycle between periods of strict dieting and binge eating high-calorie foods. At least once a week, they binge, and then they engage in what experts call “compensatory behaviors” to keep their weight in check. Some examples are intense exercise, laxative misuse, and vomiting. People with bulimia nervosa, like those with anorexia nervosa, are disproportionately and unhealthily affected by their preoccupation with food, weight, and body shape.

The following types of feeding and eating disorders are treated at Turning Point Centers for adults:

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder – is characterized by episodes of binge eating in which the sufferer consumes a large quantity of food in a short amount of time, experiences a lack of control over their eating, and feels distressed as a result of the binge. Chronic binge eating can lead to severe health complications, such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. The most prevalent eating disorder in the United States is binge-eating disorder.

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) – Formerly known as “selective eating disorder,” ARFID is a recently defined eating disorder characterized by a disturbance in eating that leads to a persistent inability to achieve nutritional needs and excessive picky eating. Patients with ARFID do not suffer from a distorted body image or an intense aversion to gaining weight, as seen in those with anorexia nervosa. Low appetite, lack of interest in food, sensory-based avoidance, and anxiety or concern about unpleasant experiences (choking or vomiting) all play a role in ARFID.

Signs and Symptoms

Feeding and eating disorders have a wide range of symptoms. Binge eating disorder is defined by frequent binges (every week for three months), accompanied by a loss of control, and three or more of the following characteristics:

  • Consuming food at a frantic pace
  • Consuming an unhealthy amount of food
  • Abnormally huge meals eaten despite lack of hunger
  • Avoiding social situations because of one’s weight
  • Feeling ashamed, depressed, or extremely guilty as a result

ARFID is diagnosed when eating issues are accompanied by one or more of the following conditions:

  • Significant weight reduction
  • Significant nutritional insufficiency
  • The dependence on a feeding tube or oral nutritional supplements for adequate nutrient intake
  • Interference with social functioning (such as inability to eat with others)

Many individuals with feeding and eating disorders often struggle with co-occurring mental health conditions. In addition to their eating disorder, 71% of patients are also diagnosed with anxiety or mood disorders.

Risk Factors

Biological, psychological, and social factors all contribute to developing feeding and eating disorders. Consequently, depending on how these factors interact, two people with the same eating disorder may have vastly different perspectives, experiences, and symptoms. However, there are certain commonalities in the understanding of the primary risk factors for the development of feeding and eating disorders that researchers have uncovered.

  • Gender – While both genders are susceptible to developing an eating disorder, women are more prone than men to suffer from anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders.
  • Age – Young women are the largest at-risk group for developing feeding and eating disorders.
  • Negative body image – Individuals with a history of dieting, expressing concerns about their weight, and having a negative body image are all at risk for developing a feeding and eating disorder.
  • Mental health conditions – Mood disorders, anxiety disorders, OCD, and low self-esteem have all been linked to an increased likelihood of developing a feeding and eating disorder.
  • Trauma – Individuals who experience traumatic events are more likely to suffer from feeding and eating disorders.
  • Genetics – Individuals with a close family member who has struggled with a feeding and eating disorder or another psychiatric disorder are more likely to develop this condition themselves.
  • Family factors – Family conflict, parental indifference, and overprotective parenting can all be risk factors for feeding and eating disorders.
  • Personality traits – Perfectionism, for example, can lead to the development of feeding and eating problems.

Diagnosis and Treatment

General practitioners or mental health specialists like psychiatrists and psychologists can diagnose feeding and eating disorders. During an appointment with your primary care physician, they may ask about your medical history, do a physical exam, and request laboratory testing. The psychological evaluation is conducted by a mental health counselor (psychologist or psychiatrist) to understand your attitudes and practices surrounding food and eating.

Professionals in the field use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to diagnose your condition. The DSM specifies the signs and symptoms of each distinct feeding and eating disorder. Food concerns might be difficult to handle on your own, but a professional can help even if you don’t meet the outlined criteria for feeding and eating disorders.

Many different approaches can be taken to treat feeding and eating disorders, and they will depend on the specifics of each individual’s condition.

  • Psychotherapy – Evidence-based approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy, and family therapy can effectively treat feeding and eating disorders.
  • Medications – Individuals with eating problems often suffer from co-occurring mental health issues. Medication intended to treat these conditions can alleviate certain symptoms.
  • Nutritional counseling – A certified dietician who specializes in treating feeding and eating disorders can greatly assist in establishing healthy eating routines and formulating sensible meal plans.

The most effective course of treatment often involves a team of specialists working together to meet the patient’s psychological, physiological, and behavioral needs. Turning Point Centers provide adults with the highest quality mental health care. Our compassionate clinicians offer individualized care to those battling mental health conditions through residential treatment, day treatment (PHP), and intensive outpatient programs.

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