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Specific Disorders - Eating-Related

Eating Disorders

     Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, racial/ethnic backgrounds, body weights, and genders. Eating disorders frequently appear during the teen years or young adulthood but may also develop during childhood or later in life. These disorders affect both genders, although rates among women are higher than among men. Like women who have eating disorders, men also have a distorted sense of body image.

     A complex interaction of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors cause eating disorders.

     Researchers are using the latest technology and science to understand eating disorders better.

     One approach involves the study of human genes. Eating disorders run in families. Researchers are working to identify DNA variations linked to the increased risk of developing eating disorders.

     Brain imaging studies are also providing a better understanding of eating disorders. For example, researchers have found differences in patterns of brain activity in women with eating disorders in comparison with healthy women.

     Eating disorders are often fatal illnesses that are associated with severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. Preoccupation with food, body weight, and shape may also signal an eating disorder.  Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
Girl binging on food in bathroom so she can purge immediately after indulging

Binging can become an obsession

Bulimic girl eating chocolate snack with obsession


  Evidence also suggests that medicines such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers may also help treat eating disorders.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

     It is essential to seek treatment early for eating disorders. People with eating disorders are at higher risk for suicide and medical complications. People with eating disorders can often have other mental disorders (such as depression or anxiety) or problems with substance use. Complete recovery is possible.

     Treatment plans are tailored to individual needs and may include one or more of the following:

  • Individual, group, or family psychotherapy
  • Medical care and monitoring
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Medications

Therapy for Eating Disorders

      Family-based therapy called the Maudsley approach, where parents of adolescents with anorexia nervosa assume responsibility for feeding their child, appear to be very useful in helping people gain weight and improve eating habits and moods.

    People may undergo cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to reduce or eliminate binge-eating or purging behaviors, which is another type of psychotherapy that helps a person learn how to identify distorted or unhelpful thinking patterns and recognize and change inaccurate beliefs.