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We've all heard of anorexia and bulimia nervosa, and understand these eating disorders to respectively refer to subsisting on a grossly insufficient number of calories (starvation), and binging followed by purging. The existing spectrum of eating disorders is much broader than anorexia and bulimia, however; they include binge eating disorder and eating disorder not-otherwise-specified — which means you have an eating disorder that's not currently neatly defined by diagnostic criteria. The symptoms of eating disorders can also be much wider than popular belief would suggest. 

Could You Have An Eating Disorder?

You may have an undiagnosed eating disorder if:

  • Thoughts about food and your weight dominate your life. You spend a lot of time looking in the mirror and standing on the scale. 
  • You feel that you have little control over how much you eat — whether that means you binge, or you cannot bring yourself to eat enough calories to healthily sustain yourself. 
  • You take unhealthy measures to bring your weight down — purging (vomiting), using laxatives, or holding food in your mouth, chewing it, and spitting it out again. Each of these have their own undesirable consequences. 
  • Your body image is unrealistic — you consider yourself fat even though your BMI indicates that you are underweight, for instance. You may have lost a lot of weight, and still not be satisfied. 

If you are not eating enough, you may physically begin to feel weak, you may start noticing gastrointestinal disturbances, and as you develop nutritional deficiencies, your overall health will suffer. You may find that falling and staying asleep becomes much harder, as insomnia is a common side effect of eating disorders. Extreme mood swings can accompany this process, both for physical and emotional reasons.

Who Develops Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders can have all sorts of underlying reasons, ranging from social pressures to be skinny and a family history of eating disorders, to underlying mental health issues such as anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In a stressful environment, you may feel that your food intake is the one thing you have control over. 

No particular personality "profile" is excluded from the possibility of developing an eating disorder, though, and even if you're the last person you would have suspected of the potential to struggle with an eating disorder, know that it takes acknowledging that you are struggling in this area to get better. 

What Treatment Is Available For Eating Disorders?

It takes addressing both the disordered eating and any underlying issues that caused the eating disorder to begin working on getting better. While some people are indeed, I know from second-hand experience in friends, able to overcome their eating disorders by themselves, to the point where they are again able to follow healthy eating patterns, professional assistance really does have the potential to be a lot more powerful. 

Please consider talking to your family doctor about:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. 
  • Interpersonal therapy. 
  • Dietary counseling — learning how to following healthy eating patterns again. 
  • Antidepressants, which can also be very helpful. 

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