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Common Questions About Eating Disorders

If you or someone you love is struggling with food or eating, you probably have lots of questions. Here are answers to commonly asked questions about eating disorders, including information about specific eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Accurate eating disorder information is important to recognizing when someone needs help, and can help you in making decisions about when to seek care.

What is eating disorder treatment?

Treatment from a multidisciplinary team of physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, dietitians, counselors whom treat the whole person suffering from eating disorders from a biological, nutritional, psychological, social, and spiritual approach. It’s a team approach from a group of specialists who have experience working with eating disorders. Treatment includes individual, group, and family therapy.

What Triggers Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are complex diseases. Genetics and a family history of eating disorders, personality traits such as perfectionism, and psychological factors such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and trauma are all associated with eating disorders. Other research indicates that some people with eating disorders have abnormalities in brain chemicals that regulate mood, stress, and appetite.

Social factors contribute as well. Research shows that major life changes – starting a new school, moving, family problems, relationship break-ups or the death of a loved one, may trigger eating disorders or make mild symptoms worse.

Why do you need treatment for eating disorders?

Eating Disorders are complex and typically include co-occurring disorders and issues. They affect the whole person and family. Although it can happen, it is very difficult to recovery on your own. A team of professionals is recommended given the biological, psychological, social, and nutritional issues that are present.

I’m worried someone I care about has anorexia. How can I tell if it’s just normal weight loss or if they need help?

Anorexia has behavioral and emotional components, including dramatic weight loss, trying to hide weight loss, preoccupation with weight, food, calories or dieting, refusing to eat certain foods or whole categories of food, maintaining a rigid exercise routine and developing rituals around food (such as insisting on eating foods in a certain order).

Anorexia can also impact how people interact with their friends and loved ones. Irritability, depression, not wanting to eat in public, frequently looking in the mirror to look for perceived flaws and social withdrawal or loss of interest in activities once enjoyed could mean someone is suffering with anorexia.

My teenager is acting very secretive and withdrawn, and seems to be spending a lot of time in the bathroom with the water running. Could it be bulimia?

People with bulimia are typically found out when their loved ones detect self-induced vomiting because of sights, sounds or smells. Clues that a person may have bulimia include frequently going to the bathroom during meals or right after eating, flushing the toilet multiple times, running tap water or the shower while in the bathroom to disguise the sound of vomiting, taking more than one shower a day to provide an opportunity to purge, using a lot of mouthwash or breath mints to hide the smell, and a raspy or scratchy voice.

Although harder for friends and family to notice, medical professionals may also spot damaged teeth and gums, swollen salivary glands in the cheeks, and sores in the throat and mouth. People with bulimia may also misuse laxatives, which they mistakenly believe will flush calories from the body, or ipecac syrup to induce vomiting. (Ipecac is intended to be taken after suspected poisoning.)

There are times that I feel out of control around food, and terribly guilty after I’ve overeaten. Do I have binge eating disorder?

When people binge eat, they typically eat large amounts of food, rapidly, and continue even when full. They may eat alone, hoard food, or hide boxes and wrappers. After a binge, people often feel disgusted or ashamed by their behavior. People who binge eat may go on and off diets and go up and down in weight. Low self-esteem, social withdrawal and depression may also accompany binge eating disorder.

Can people have more than one eating disorder at the same time?

Eating disorder symptoms don’t always fit neatly into one category. For example, some people with anorexia also purge. Some people with bulimia may also exercise excessively to control their weight. Others may alternate between anorexia and bulimia. People with bulimia may also binge eat.

The important thing to understand is that the behaviors associated with eating disorders are often a manifestation of emotional issues. If someone is struggling with food, eating, body image, self-esteem, excessive exercise or other aspects of their mental health, they should receive help.

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Can Eating Disorders be Cured?

Eating disorders can be cured, in that people can fully recover and their eating disorder behaviors may never reoccur. Those individuals have not only returned to balanced eating and a healthy relationship with food, but they have also developed a positive body image, learned effective coping skills to deal with stress or anxiety, and moved past the feelings, experiences and fears that contributed to the problem.

In some people, however, even if they are no longer actively engaging in eating disorders behaviors, continue to have eating disorder thoughts creep in. In recovery, they have to pay close attention to their physical health and their mental health to avoid slipping back into dangerous habits. To help these individuals stay on track, ongoing therapy, connection with their therapeutic team and community-based support are crucial. Rosewood has a strong alumni program made of up people from all over the United States who get together to provide that companionship and encouragement to one other.

Yes but there are significant neurobiological, biological and genetic influences.

Can You Tell by Looking at Someone That They Have an Eating Disorder?

Often you can’t. People with eating disorders may be a normal weight or look healthy. Their appearance may not match the anxiety around food and eating they feel inside. People with eating disorders also often have a distorted body image. To an outsider, they look perfectly fine. Yet inside the person is preoccupied with their physical appearance, to the point that it is crowding out other thoughts.

Who is Vulnerable to Eating Disorders?

People of any age, including boys, girls, men and women. The media tends to focus on adolescent girls and young women with eating disorders. As a group, they do tend to have higher rates of eating disorders. But about 15% of our patients at Rosewood are men and boys, a number that has steadily risen.

Members of the LGBTQ community are also vulnerable to eating disorders. Struggles with coming out, gender expression and school or workplace bullying are thought to be contributing factors. These experiences can lead anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and trauma-related issues, which are known to be associated with the development of eating disorders.

How Can I talk to Someone If I Suspect They Have an Eating Disorder?

Being confronted about an eating disorder can be difficult for someone to hear.Choose a time when you can speak privately, when you’re calm and when your family member or friend isn’t overly stressed. Explain your concern and give examples of specific situations and behaviors that worry you. Don’t take it personally if the person you care about lies about their behavior or becomes defensive. This is a very common reaction. Being ‘found out’ may feel threatening to them. Be patient, and supportive, and let them know help is available.

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Where can you find eating disorder treatment centers?

All over the country – particularly in metropolitan areas.

When do you need treatment for eating disorders?

When eating disorder symptoms cause physical, mental, emotional and/or social dysfunction in your life and /or interfere with your relationship with food, self, and others.

What are eating disorder treatment centers?

Facilities that have a multidisciplinary team and specialize in the treatment of eating disorders and co-occurring disorders. They include various levels of care including inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient.

How many eating disorder treatment centers are there for Rosewood?

There are 4 eating disorder treatment centers for Rosewood.

How do you treat patients related to eating disorders?

Integrative care with evidenced-based treatment including dialectical behavior therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, as well as trauma informed care and treatment, including EMDR. We also treat co-occurring substance abuse disorders. Treatment includes 12-step model, group work and the AddictBrain curriculum. We include nutritional therapy and experientials, including meal support and monitoring. We have a medical team of physicians and psychiatrics caring for our patients. We also do group therapy including therapeutic process groups, body image therapy, aftercare and relapse prevention groups, art therapy, equine, and recreational therapy.

Do you also give medicines to treat eating disorders?

Yes when appropriate for co-occurring disorders. There are no specific medications designated to treat eating disorders.

Can Eating Disorders Just Go Away Without Treatment?

They can, but not often, and it’s a dangerous and potentially deadly chance to take. A lot of people don’t want to admit that they have an eating disorder, or that their child has an eating disorder. So they put off treatment, thinking they can get a handle on it on their own or it’s just a phase.

Research shows that the earlier eating disorders are diagnosed and treated, the more likely someone will recover completely. The longer an eating disorder is allowed to progress, the more likely the individual will suffer long-term consequences to the bones, muscles, heart, kidneys, stomach, teeth, skin, hair and brain.

People die of eating disorders complications every day. If someone you love is struggling, they deserve help from qualified medical professionals and eating disorders experts who can help them heal, physically and mentally.

If you have more questions about eating disorders, contact Rosewood at (888) 228-1253. We can provide information about eating disorders, advice on next steps and a confidential consultation.

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