Eating disorders are not a choice as hard as that may be to understand. Eating disorders are not a lifestyle change. They are not something you can erase by eating healthy and garnering more willpower. Eating disorders are a serious mental health condition that can be deadly. Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and so many other eating disorders take control of someone as they struggle with false beliefs about their bodies.
How does an eating disorder begin?
Nobody wakes up one morning and has an eating disorder, and nobody develops an eating disorder the same way. As with other mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression, they begin differently for each person. For a teenage girl, her eating disorder may begin because she is being bullied at school for being just a little bigger than the other girls. She may decide the best way to shed a few pounds is to not eat or to exercise excessively. The woman in her twenties may be depressed and finds comfort in binging on her favorite foods. Or the woman in her thirties or forties may find her outlet from stress by eating thousands of calories at a time and then purging her food, only to realize she feels guilty later.
Eating disorders are about many things, but food is not one of them. As with other mental health conditions, research has found that genetics do play a role in the development of an eating disorder. People who have an immediate family member such as a mother, father, or sibling who have an eating disorder are 11 times more likely to develop one themselves. Additionally, those who have a history of depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder are also more likely to develop an eating disorder.
Social pressure can also play a role in triggering an eating disorder. The emphasis that has been placed on achieving the “perfect body” has led many to feel pressured into achieving unattainable weights and shapes. A negative body image and low self-esteem can often lead individuals to develop unhealthy behavior patterns.
Some experts believe an eating disorder develops when neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, become unbalanced, which has a central role in anxiety and depression, both common in anorexia and bulimia. Brain scans have shown that individuals with these disorders get too little serotonin. Other contributing factors leading to eating disorders can include stress, anxiety, trauma, depression, sexual abuse, substance use, stressful life changes, or weight-oriented careers such as gymnastics, running, or modeling.
What are eating disorders?
There are several types of eating disorders, but three that are more common than others. Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders are shown to affect the most people.
- Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition and claims the lives of an estimated 10-20% of individuals due to complications. It is characterized by significant weight loss from restricting calories, and individuals often do not realize how underweight they may be and perceive themselves as “fat,” despite a dangerously low body weight.
- Bulimia is characterized by cycles of binge eating followed by purging the body of unwanted calories. The binge-purge cycle can be triggered by stress, anxiety, depression, and a lack of control. Individuals with bulimia may repeat the cycle several times a week, often consuming very large amounts of food. While binging can make someone feel regret and shame, individuals with bulimia often feel a sense of comfort and well-being after purging.
- Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the US and affects an estimated 4-9 million people. BED is characterized by episodes of binge eating with a frequency of at least once per week for three months. As with other eating disorders, there is no one cause for binge eating disorder, but it is sometimes linked to genetic disposition, depression, anxiety, and weight discrimination.
Can eating disorders be treated?
Eating disorders are treatable, and it takes a great deal of courage to take the first step to get help. Because eating disorders are complex and involve relationships between emotions, coping, food, control, and obsessions, it can be difficult to realize there is a problem. Even friends and family may not recognize the problem. Letting go of established thought patterns and behaviors can be difficult, and a great deal of time can pass before taking the step to get help.
Treatment, such as that at Selah House can help you recover mentally, physically, and spiritually. We provide a holistic approach to treatment that works to help those suffering from an eating disorder eliminate their eating disordered behaviors and relearn and trust their thoughts and behaviors. Our Christ-centered, clinically excellent program treats the whole person with therapeutic psychiatric, medical, and nutritional care by developing a customized treatment plan to meet the specific needs of the individual. We provide multiple levels of care that are designed to offer a clear step-down process, so clients feel continually supported in their recovery journey.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, call our admissions team at Selah House at 866-324-8081 or complete our contact form. You are never alone in your struggle. Selah House can help you find freedom.
“Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” – Proverbs 11:14