What Is an Eating Disorder?
An eating disorder is a behavioral health disorder that centers on food and eating. There are several types, but the main symptom of any eating disorder is an unhealthy relationship with food and eating.
If you have an eating disorder, you eat too much or too little food, but eating disorders aren’t really about the food. You also likely have a lot of mental distress about your:
- Body shape
A disordered relationship with food is a symptom of deeper emotional problems. For someone with binge-eating disorder, food might be a coping mechanism or a way of numbing emotions. Someone who is anorexic may control their food intake because they feel out of control in other parts of their life.
How Do I Know if I Need Help For an Eating Disorder?
People with eating disorders are often in denial about how serious their disorders are. But it’s difficult to recover without professional help. This means it’s vital to get help if any of the below sounds like you:
- You spend a lot of time on activities that revolve around food or restriction – For instance, thinking about food, reading about food, or planning your daily food intake.
- You make excuses to avoid eating with others or lie in order to avoid eating.
- You buy or eat food in secret.
- You hoard or hide food.
- You binge eat and/or feel you can’t control yourself around food.
- You purge after eating or use medication such as diet pills, laxatives, or diuretics to control your weight.
- You exercise, diet, or fast compulsively to try and control your weight.
- Your self-worth or mood depends on what you eat, how much you weigh, or how much weight you’ve gained or lost.
- You feel guilt or shame when you eat or after you eat
Types of Eating Disorders
People with anorexia are obsessed with food restriction and weight loss. They are underweight but see themselves as overweight and are afraid of gaining weight. Some anorexic people exercise compulsively as a means of weight control.
Common symptoms of anorexia include:
- Very strict control over what you eat and drink
- Continued weight loss or efforts to lose weight, even if you’re already underweight
- Obsessive thoughts about food, weight loss, or dieting
- A fear of gaining weight
- Exercising excessively and/or obsessively
- Self-esteem tightly linked to body image and weight
- Urges to restrict further or exercise more in response to stress
- Increased risk of mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety disorder, self-harm, and suicide
While most anorexics are underweight, not all are. There is also a kind of anorexia called atypical anorexia. People with this disorder are not underweight—they may even be overweight. But they can still be malnourished because they restrict food.
Effects of Anorexia
Anorexia has serious long-term effects due to malnutrition:
• Poor immune system function
• Kidney damage
The most serious effects are on the heart and cardiovascular system: low blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, and heart disease. For this reason, anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
Something else that happens in the long-term is refeeding syndrome. This occurs when someone with anorexia starts to eat again after a long time restricting food. In this situation, eating can cause a dangerous—sometimes fatal—electrolyte imbalance. If you’re anorexic, you must be under medical supervision when you start to eat again.
People with bulimia have frequent episodes of binge eating followed by purging. Purging is any behavior that eliminates the food, like vomiting or using laxatives. During a binge, they feel like they have no control over what they eat. Most people with bulimia are of normal weight or are a little overweight.
Symptoms of bulimia include:
- Constant thinking about food, weight loss, or dieting
- Frequently binging on food, sometimes to the point of nausea or discomfort
- After binges, purging to prevent weight gain – Common purging methods include vomiting and laxatives.
- Exercising obsessively, crash-dieting, or fasting after binges to prevent weight gain
- Feeling out of control during binges, and ashamed, guilty, or depressed after binges
- Self-esteem tightly linked to body image and weight
- Increased risk of mental health issues, like depression or anxiety disorder, self-harm, and suicide
Effects of Bulimia
People with bulimia frequently eat large amounts of food, but they often suffer from malnutrition because they purge afterwards. They also suffer the long-term effects of frequent purging. For instance, repeated bouts of vomiting damages the esophagus. This can lead to esophageal cancer or a ruptured esophagus. Using too many diuretics and laxatives can damage the bowels and kidneys. Purging also causes severe electrolyte imbalances. Over time, this harms the heart, leading to heart arrhythmia and heart failure.
Binge Eating Disorder (Compulsive Overeating)
Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia, in that binge eating is the main feature of the disorder, but in this disorder, binging is not followed by purging. This means binge eaters are more likely to be overweight than people with bulimia.
Binge eating disorder symptoms include:
- Frequently eating very large amounts of food, sometimes to the point of nausea or physical discomfort
- Eating large amounts of food even when not hungry
- Feeling out of control around food, especially during binges
- Strong feelings of guilt or shame around food and binging
- Strongly negative body image
- Increased risk of depression or anxiety, self-harm, and other mental health problems
Effects of Binge Eating Disorder
Most of the long-term effects of binge eating disorder relate to the weight gain that comes with frequent overeating, including:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, and stroke.
Is an Eating Disorder the Same as a Food Addiction?
People with eating disorders engage in compulsive behavior, just as addicts do. Addictions and eating disorders both develop because of underlying psychological issues.
An eating disorder is similar to addiction, but they are not the same. Addiction causes changes in brain chemistry that don’t happen in eating disorders. Also, while addiction involves the overuse of alcohol or drugs, eating disorders center on food deprivation. For instance, if you’re anorexic, you deny yourself food, and if you’re bulimic or have binge eating disorder, food deprivation often triggers binges.
Addiction and eating disorders are treated differently in recovery. An addict must learn to live without alcohol and drugs, but someone with an eating disorder can’t avoid eating. Instead, you must develop a healthy relationship with food, so you can eat and think about food in normal ways.
Eating Disorder Treatment and Recovery at CAST Centers
Food is one of the most basic things you need for survival. If your relationship with food becomes unhealthy, your entire being suffers—body, mind, and spirit.
At CAST Centers in Los Angeles, CA, our approach to treating eating disorders uses the CAST alignment model (CAM). We designed this model to help you address your mental, emotional, and spiritual selves. Using the CAST alignment model, you’ll work to uncover the root causes of your unhealthy relationship with food. Then you’ll move toward turning that relationship into one that’s healthy and satisfying.
Therapy, coaching, and other kinds of assistance will help you free yourself from unhealthy habits. You’ll learn to enjoy nutritious food and balanced meals, and maintain a healthy weight and a positive self-image. Part of our therapeutic approach also focuses on relapse prevention. This will help you maintain your new healthy habits after your treatment is complete.
Partial Hospitalization/Intensive Outpatient Programs
This intensive eating disorders program is based at CAST Centers in Los Angeles, California. The program includes four weeks of therapy, coaching, and practical help. You’ll have regular group and individual therapy sessions, as well as life coaching. You’ll also have access to a registered dietitian for nutrition therapy and nutritional counseling.
While you’re in this program, you’ll stay at our Wellness Apartments, located near Santa Monica, CA. You’ll live in this supportive environment for the duration of your stay, with 24/7 access to on-site staff.
Custom Outpatient Treatment Program
If you need a more flexible eating disorder recovery program, our outpatient care program is ideal. You can continue with your daily routine while receiving the same high standard of care and personalized treatment, but with less disruption to your everyday life.
Treatment Programs Designed to Give You the Help You Need
CAST Centers eating disorder treatment programs offer several levels of care. The partial hospitalization programs and intensive outpatient programs are for people who need a higher level of care. Partial hospitalization is also for people who need to be under medical supervision.
For a more flexible therapeutic approach, you can opt for the outpatient care program. This day treatment is for people who want to continue to work while they’re in treatment for disordered eating.
All CAST Centers eating disorder treatment programs include group and private therapy. Proven therapeutic techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy and experiential therapy are offered. These help you deal with the problems that have contributed to your eating disorder.
Recovery doesn’t happen according to a strict timetable. Eating disorders are complicated, especially when there are co-occurring disorders like depression or another mental illness. If you reach the end of your treatment program but are not ready to move on, you don’t have to. You’re welcome to stay and continue your eating disorder therapy for as long as you need us.
Not sure what treatment is right for you? Call us for a confidential assessment at 866-283-9885.
Recovery Will Expand and Enrich Your World
When you have an eating disorder, you spend a huge amount of mental energy on food and eating. Your world shrinks to the size of your relationship with what you put in your mouth, and there’s very little room for anything else.
Imagine living a life that doesn’t revolve around food and eating. No more obsessing about food, calories, or exercise. No more worrying about the number on the scale. What could you do with the time and energy that you’re spending on your relationship with food? What shape would your life take if you allowed it to expand?
Call CAST Centers today, and get ready to find out.