Counseling Corner: Feeding the Mind of ED Sufferers


Eating disorders are unfortunately, an all too common illness in the United States. Four of ten Americans are affected by eating disorders, either personally or through a friend or relative. Nearly 10 million women and girls and one million men and boys are battling eating disorders in the United States. The incidence of eating disorders among teenagers and young adults continues to increase: 86 percent of people with ED say that their illness began before they were 20 years old. Eating disorders go beyond concern to follow a healthy diet or to stick to an exercise plan. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by a distorted body image and a fear of gaining weight that leads to severe diet restrictions, self-starvation, over use of laxatives and diuretics, excessive exercise, and fasting. People with bulimia nervosa also fear gaining weight, although they may maintain a normal weight. People with bulimia binge eat (consume large amounts of food that would not normally be consumed in one sitting) and compensate for their excessive intake of food by purging (either through vomiting or laxative or diuretic use), excessive exercise, or fasting. People suffering from binge eating disorder have recurrent eating binges characterized by feeling out of control, but do not purge following a binge. People with orthorexia craft extremely limited diets in their pursuit of healthy eating and become obsessed with eating only certain foods. Overexercise, also called anorexia athletica, create stringent and overly-strenuous exercise programs to control their calorie intake and weight. Some eating disorders do not meet all the criteria for anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating and are referred to as “Eating Disorders not Otherwise Specified”, or EDNOS. These eating disorders are just as serious as anorexia and bulimia and have the same dangerous consequences.

Futher reading on types of ED’s:

  • Types of ED: An overview of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and body dismorphic disorder.
  • Binging: Definition, symptoms, and treatment of binge eating disorder.
  • ED Overview: Definitions, explanations, and treatments of different types of eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, and EDNOS.
  • Eating Disorders: Facts about anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating. Also provides information on the physical and emotional effects of ED and gives teens tips on what to look for if they suspect a friend might be suffering from ED.
  • Facts about ED: Information about anorexia nervosa and related eating disorders.
  • ED: General information, types, complications, symptoms, tests, and treatment of ED. Site also includes an “ask and expert” feature.
  • ED Facts for Teens: Definitions, causes, and complications of ED.
  • Overexercise, EDNOS, and other ED: Facts about types of ED, their short- and long-term effects, and their cost.
  • Orthorexia: A definition of orthopedic and other eating disorders.
  • EDNOS: Examples of EDNOS; also includes explanations of other types of eating disorders.
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder: Causes, treatment, frequently asked questions about BDD; also includes real-life stories.

ED Causes

Eating disorders are caused by many different factors and most of them have no direct correlation with food. Family history can play a big role in the development of EDs. Excessive parental concern over their children’s weight and appearance, a family history of ED or psychological conditions, a family history of obesity, and genetic factors may contribute to the development of EDs. Cultural pressures, such as the obsession with thinness and appearance, also play into the development of ED. The stress of family, social, and personal expectations can be a contributing factor. A drive for perfectionism can lead to controlling food intake or exercise as a means of exerting control over one area of a person’s life. Other psychological factors, such as a desire to be liked, a lack of self-esteem, family discord, impulsiveness, and sexual abuse can also contribute to ED.

More information on contributing causes:

  • Causes: Biological and psychological causes of EDs; also includes information on body image disturbances, exercise addiction, muscle dysmorphia, and plastic surgery addiction and an eating disorder glossary.
  • Risk Factors and Causes: Discussion of different factors that may lead to a person developing ED.
  • Brain Imaging Studies: From UCSD comes a study of brain activity in the mind of an ED sufferer.
  • Brain Mechanisms of an ED: Looking into hormonal factors of the brain in people with EDs.

Psychological Effects

Eating disorders can have both physical and psychological symptoms. Psychological conditions may be secondary to an ED, or vice versa it is also possible for both conditions to coexist. Psychological disorders that affect people with EDs include depression, post traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorders, and anxiety. Self-destructive behaviors such as self-injury or mutilation or addictive behaviors like alcoholism or drug abuse, may also occur with EDs. Although public awareness of eating disorders is increasing, many people with EDs do not seek treatment for either the mental or physical aspects of their disease. Only a third of people with anorexia and six percent of those with bulimia receive mental health care. For successful recovery, both the mental and psychological aspects of ED need to be treated.

Read more about the psychological effects of eating disorders:
  • Psychotherapy: The psychological effects of ED and how psychotherapy can help.
  • Mental Health and ED: An eating disorders support community with information on mental health issues related to eating disorders, including depression, self-injury, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, suicide attempts, and confirmed negativity condition.
  • Psychological Effects and Symptoms of ED: Psychological effects, behavioral effects, and physical effects of ED in adolescents.

Treatment for the Mind

Psychological treatment is an essential part of healing for EDs, along with nutritional education and medication. Individual psychotherapy will address any underlying or coexistent conditions, such as depression or anxiety. Psychotherapy will also help people with EDs recognize destructive behaviors and learn healthy coping mechanisms for stressful situations or depressed moods. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common treatment for ED and helps people recognize maladaptive thinking patterns and the beliefs behind them in order to change such patterns. Family therapy is often recommended for children and adolescents with an ED who need help making healthy decisions and will also help family members learn how to correctly support their child’s recovery.
Find futher answers for treatment:
  • Questions for Therapists: Questions to ask yourself and your therapist to help you get started with treatment.
  • Support: Support from mental health professionals and online support groups for people with ED. Also includes fact sheets on types of ED.
  • How Psychotherapists can Help: Information about ED, psychotherapy, and how treatment works.
  • Referrals: Search for treatment options for ED.
  • Getting Help: Information on treatment options and recovery; help finding a therapist and treatment center.
  • Phone Consultations: Learn about treatment options over the phone; this group also runs support groups and provides coaching for friends and family members of people with ED.
  • Tips for Getting Help: Questions to ask when looking for a treatment center, outpatient therapist, and care team.

Photo Credit | Danielle Helm; Flickr 2010