A Look at Eating Disorders

Reviewed Nov 22, 2017

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Summary

When a person eats too much or too little, he may have:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge-eating disorder

What is a disorder? It is something that has gone awry in an otherwise orderly system.

The way we move, sleep, eat, and deal with the world is all connected. When our lives are in balance, we get enough sleep and have no trouble walking or moving to handle the chores in our life. If we are children, we eat what we need to grow, or if we are adults, to stay fit.

When we eat too much or too little it is not because we love or hate food, but because something in our life is out of balance. We may have too much stress, hate the way we look, feel unloved or unlovable, or have a physical illness, and that affects everything else in our life. 

Sure, once in a while we all eat too much on a holiday or get carried away when someone offers us something we really love to eat. Or, there is nothing on the table that interests us, so we pass and don’t eat. But, when it’s time for the next meal, we go back to normal.

When how much we eat or don’t eat is out of control and we do it when we know it is not in our best interest, that behavior has little to do with food. When it starts to affect our weight—up or down—it is called an eating disorder. Scientists are not sure why and how people develop eating disorders, but they know they do not happen overnight. These disorders are deep-seated and complicated patterns of behavior that can leave a person damaged socially, physically and emotionally, but they are treatable.  

Types of eating disorders

Anorexia nervosa

Someone with anorexia has a distorted vision of what she looks like, and does not like what she sees. So, she starves herself, sometimes to the point of serious medical problems or death. 

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia is a form of binge-eating, with different consequences. A person who has bulimia stuffs herself with food, and then works to get rid of the food before it is digested. When she eats, she is out of control. Then, she has to undo the damage, so she vomits, or uses laxatives or enemas to purge the food from her body. The end result is poor nutrition or starvation. 

Binge-eating/compulsive eating

A binge-eater eats until he is stuffed or beyond. He is out of control while he gobbles as much food as quickly as he can, and feels uncomfortably stuffed afterward. Then he feels guilty. To reduce guilt, he cuts back a little at his next meal to make up for his binge, or he may go on a diet. But his controlled eating is short-lived and soon he is back overstuffing himself.

It’s the up-and-down, out-of-control aspect of the eating pattern that makes it a disorder. The person does not eat to live, but lives to eat. Even so, he may not even enjoy what he consumes. Often, he eats so fast and takes little time to savor his meal, he doesn’t notice—or care—if he likes it.

Am I a binge eater?

Binge eaters:

  • Reach for food even when they are not hungry
  • Eat much faster than normal
  • Eat until they are uncomfortably full
  • Sometimes eat alone before a meal, so they can control their eating in front of others
  • Often feel guilty after they eat
  • Feel like they are out of control

You don’t become a binge-eater overnight, but if you see yourself slipping into this pattern, you might be able to stop yourself. If you can’t do it yourself, get professional help.

How do you become a binge eater?

You may be surprised to learn that dieting can upset your natural hunger set-point, which can lead to overeating. That is why some therapists say that if you want to lose weight, don’t diet. Instead, change the way you live. Choose healthy foods, stick to regular mealtimes, exercise every day, and learn to handle stress. Your weight will go back to something in a normal range, once you have established a healthy lifestyle.

Many binge-eaters had underlying problems with self-esteem long before they started overeating. Others have depression. Some have control problems in other aspects of their lives. Maybe they are risk takers on the road, work too long and too hard, drink too much, or have trouble controlling their anger or their spending habits.  

Or, they may be falling back on something they learned shortly after birth. Our first pleasure is food. When we fussed, our mothers fed us, soothing our spirits and our bodies. When adults are stressed, they often look for ways to soothe themselves and may make bad choices, turning to alcohol, drugs, or food.

“Binge-eaters are emotional eaters, which means they use food as a primary way of making themselves feel better when something is bothering them,” says eating disorder therapist Judith Matz. “People use food to deal with all kinds of feelings, such as boredom, stress, anger, loneliness, and sadness, and even happiness.”

Matz describes how she helps people deal with eating disorders: “A person with an eating disorder needs to learn how to handle their feelings. They need to realize, when I’m lonely, I eat. When I’m tired, I eat. When I’m sad, I eat.” Of course, people who do not eat, such as those with bulimia and anorexia, follow similar patterns. 

Once people make a connection between their feelings and their actions, a counselor can help them find other ways to get through that rough moment, without hurting themselves.

“It’s not a food problem but an eating problem,” Matz says.
 
Deal with compulsive eating
 
In groups or in one-on-one sessions, behavioral therapists help people turn around eating disorders with many techniques. It is not an easy process, but it is doable.

Matz says you can change the way you eat if you:

  • Become more mindful of your body and your actions.
  • Build an internal structure. Don’t go too long between meals or you will be at high risk of overeating.
  • Keep a little bit of food with you. It’s better to choose in advance what you want to snack on, than grab the first thing you find when you are hungry.
  • Listen to your body. When are you hungry? What are you hungry for? Something hot or cold, crunchy, or mushy, spicy, salty, or bland?
  • Learn your body’s signals that indicate you are full.
  • Stock your kitchen with only healthy foods you love.

Once you have compulsive eating under control, you can work on nutrition and portion control, along with other elements of a healthy lifestyle, including exercise, a social life, a spiritual life, rest, and stress management.

Night eating

Some people skimp at dinnertime and then reward themselves with snacks a few hours later. Depending on what they eat after meals, they could get 25 percent of their calories shortly before they go to sleep.

It is not easy for the body to digest food properly late at night. It is not designed for late-night snacking. So, when a person eats and then goes to bed, the body stores calories from that food as fat, usually around his mid-section.

If night eaters miss their snacks, they are miserable and cannot sleep. At the same time, eating before bedtime can lead to sleep apnea, indigestion, and other conditions that do not lend themselves to sound sleeping.

Night eating is not officially considered an eating disorder, but is a habit you want to avoid so that you can live well and feel good.

Resources

National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

NEDA Helpline
800-931-2237

Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by TN Hanh and L. Cheung. HarperCollins. 2010.

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Marsha Marcus, PhD, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA; Judith Matz, LCSW, therapist specializing in treating eating disorders, Skokie, IL.
Reviewed by Romeo Purugganan, MD, DABPN, Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

When a person eats too much or too little, he may have:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge-eating disorder

What is a disorder? It is something that has gone awry in an otherwise orderly system.

The way we move, sleep, eat, and deal with the world is all connected. When our lives are in balance, we get enough sleep and have no trouble walking or moving to handle the chores in our life. If we are children, we eat what we need to grow, or if we are adults, to stay fit.

When we eat too much or too little it is not because we love or hate food, but because something in our life is out of balance. We may have too much stress, hate the way we look, feel unloved or unlovable, or have a physical illness, and that affects everything else in our life. 

Sure, once in a while we all eat too much on a holiday or get carried away when someone offers us something we really love to eat. Or, there is nothing on the table that interests us, so we pass and don’t eat. But, when it’s time for the next meal, we go back to normal.

When how much we eat or don’t eat is out of control and we do it when we know it is not in our best interest, that behavior has little to do with food. When it starts to affect our weight—up or down—it is called an eating disorder. Scientists are not sure why and how people develop eating disorders, but they know they do not happen overnight. These disorders are deep-seated and complicated patterns of behavior that can leave a person damaged socially, physically and emotionally, but they are treatable.  

Types of eating disorders

Anorexia nervosa

Someone with anorexia has a distorted vision of what she looks like, and does not like what she sees. So, she starves herself, sometimes to the point of serious medical problems or death. 

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia is a form of binge-eating, with different consequences. A person who has bulimia stuffs herself with food, and then works to get rid of the food before it is digested. When she eats, she is out of control. Then, she has to undo the damage, so she vomits, or uses laxatives or enemas to purge the food from her body. The end result is poor nutrition or starvation. 

Binge-eating/compulsive eating

A binge-eater eats until he is stuffed or beyond. He is out of control while he gobbles as much food as quickly as he can, and feels uncomfortably stuffed afterward. Then he feels guilty. To reduce guilt, he cuts back a little at his next meal to make up for his binge, or he may go on a diet. But his controlled eating is short-lived and soon he is back overstuffing himself.

It’s the up-and-down, out-of-control aspect of the eating pattern that makes it a disorder. The person does not eat to live, but lives to eat. Even so, he may not even enjoy what he consumes. Often, he eats so fast and takes little time to savor his meal, he doesn’t notice—or care—if he likes it.

Am I a binge eater?

Binge eaters:

  • Reach for food even when they are not hungry
  • Eat much faster than normal
  • Eat until they are uncomfortably full
  • Sometimes eat alone before a meal, so they can control their eating in front of others
  • Often feel guilty after they eat
  • Feel like they are out of control

You don’t become a binge-eater overnight, but if you see yourself slipping into this pattern, you might be able to stop yourself. If you can’t do it yourself, get professional help.

How do you become a binge eater?

You may be surprised to learn that dieting can upset your natural hunger set-point, which can lead to overeating. That is why some therapists say that if you want to lose weight, don’t diet. Instead, change the way you live. Choose healthy foods, stick to regular mealtimes, exercise every day, and learn to handle stress. Your weight will go back to something in a normal range, once you have established a healthy lifestyle.

Many binge-eaters had underlying problems with self-esteem long before they started overeating. Others have depression. Some have control problems in other aspects of their lives. Maybe they are risk takers on the road, work too long and too hard, drink too much, or have trouble controlling their anger or their spending habits.  

Or, they may be falling back on something they learned shortly after birth. Our first pleasure is food. When we fussed, our mothers fed us, soothing our spirits and our bodies. When adults are stressed, they often look for ways to soothe themselves and may make bad choices, turning to alcohol, drugs, or food.

“Binge-eaters are emotional eaters, which means they use food as a primary way of making themselves feel better when something is bothering them,” says eating disorder therapist Judith Matz. “People use food to deal with all kinds of feelings, such as boredom, stress, anger, loneliness, and sadness, and even happiness.”

Matz describes how she helps people deal with eating disorders: “A person with an eating disorder needs to learn how to handle their feelings. They need to realize, when I’m lonely, I eat. When I’m tired, I eat. When I’m sad, I eat.” Of course, people who do not eat, such as those with bulimia and anorexia, follow similar patterns. 

Once people make a connection between their feelings and their actions, a counselor can help them find other ways to get through that rough moment, without hurting themselves.

“It’s not a food problem but an eating problem,” Matz says.
 
Deal with compulsive eating
 
In groups or in one-on-one sessions, behavioral therapists help people turn around eating disorders with many techniques. It is not an easy process, but it is doable.

Matz says you can change the way you eat if you:

  • Become more mindful of your body and your actions.
  • Build an internal structure. Don’t go too long between meals or you will be at high risk of overeating.
  • Keep a little bit of food with you. It’s better to choose in advance what you want to snack on, than grab the first thing you find when you are hungry.
  • Listen to your body. When are you hungry? What are you hungry for? Something hot or cold, crunchy, or mushy, spicy, salty, or bland?
  • Learn your body’s signals that indicate you are full.
  • Stock your kitchen with only healthy foods you love.

Once you have compulsive eating under control, you can work on nutrition and portion control, along with other elements of a healthy lifestyle, including exercise, a social life, a spiritual life, rest, and stress management.

Night eating

Some people skimp at dinnertime and then reward themselves with snacks a few hours later. Depending on what they eat after meals, they could get 25 percent of their calories shortly before they go to sleep.

It is not easy for the body to digest food properly late at night. It is not designed for late-night snacking. So, when a person eats and then goes to bed, the body stores calories from that food as fat, usually around his mid-section.

If night eaters miss their snacks, they are miserable and cannot sleep. At the same time, eating before bedtime can lead to sleep apnea, indigestion, and other conditions that do not lend themselves to sound sleeping.

Night eating is not officially considered an eating disorder, but is a habit you want to avoid so that you can live well and feel good.

Resources

National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

NEDA Helpline
800-931-2237

Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by TN Hanh and L. Cheung. HarperCollins. 2010.

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Marsha Marcus, PhD, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA; Judith Matz, LCSW, therapist specializing in treating eating disorders, Skokie, IL.
Reviewed by Romeo Purugganan, MD, DABPN, Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

When a person eats too much or too little, he may have:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge-eating disorder

What is a disorder? It is something that has gone awry in an otherwise orderly system.

The way we move, sleep, eat, and deal with the world is all connected. When our lives are in balance, we get enough sleep and have no trouble walking or moving to handle the chores in our life. If we are children, we eat what we need to grow, or if we are adults, to stay fit.

When we eat too much or too little it is not because we love or hate food, but because something in our life is out of balance. We may have too much stress, hate the way we look, feel unloved or unlovable, or have a physical illness, and that affects everything else in our life. 

Sure, once in a while we all eat too much on a holiday or get carried away when someone offers us something we really love to eat. Or, there is nothing on the table that interests us, so we pass and don’t eat. But, when it’s time for the next meal, we go back to normal.

When how much we eat or don’t eat is out of control and we do it when we know it is not in our best interest, that behavior has little to do with food. When it starts to affect our weight—up or down—it is called an eating disorder. Scientists are not sure why and how people develop eating disorders, but they know they do not happen overnight. These disorders are deep-seated and complicated patterns of behavior that can leave a person damaged socially, physically and emotionally, but they are treatable.  

Types of eating disorders

Anorexia nervosa

Someone with anorexia has a distorted vision of what she looks like, and does not like what she sees. So, she starves herself, sometimes to the point of serious medical problems or death. 

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia is a form of binge-eating, with different consequences. A person who has bulimia stuffs herself with food, and then works to get rid of the food before it is digested. When she eats, she is out of control. Then, she has to undo the damage, so she vomits, or uses laxatives or enemas to purge the food from her body. The end result is poor nutrition or starvation. 

Binge-eating/compulsive eating

A binge-eater eats until he is stuffed or beyond. He is out of control while he gobbles as much food as quickly as he can, and feels uncomfortably stuffed afterward. Then he feels guilty. To reduce guilt, he cuts back a little at his next meal to make up for his binge, or he may go on a diet. But his controlled eating is short-lived and soon he is back overstuffing himself.

It’s the up-and-down, out-of-control aspect of the eating pattern that makes it a disorder. The person does not eat to live, but lives to eat. Even so, he may not even enjoy what he consumes. Often, he eats so fast and takes little time to savor his meal, he doesn’t notice—or care—if he likes it.

Am I a binge eater?

Binge eaters:

  • Reach for food even when they are not hungry
  • Eat much faster than normal
  • Eat until they are uncomfortably full
  • Sometimes eat alone before a meal, so they can control their eating in front of others
  • Often feel guilty after they eat
  • Feel like they are out of control

You don’t become a binge-eater overnight, but if you see yourself slipping into this pattern, you might be able to stop yourself. If you can’t do it yourself, get professional help.

How do you become a binge eater?

You may be surprised to learn that dieting can upset your natural hunger set-point, which can lead to overeating. That is why some therapists say that if you want to lose weight, don’t diet. Instead, change the way you live. Choose healthy foods, stick to regular mealtimes, exercise every day, and learn to handle stress. Your weight will go back to something in a normal range, once you have established a healthy lifestyle.

Many binge-eaters had underlying problems with self-esteem long before they started overeating. Others have depression. Some have control problems in other aspects of their lives. Maybe they are risk takers on the road, work too long and too hard, drink too much, or have trouble controlling their anger or their spending habits.  

Or, they may be falling back on something they learned shortly after birth. Our first pleasure is food. When we fussed, our mothers fed us, soothing our spirits and our bodies. When adults are stressed, they often look for ways to soothe themselves and may make bad choices, turning to alcohol, drugs, or food.

“Binge-eaters are emotional eaters, which means they use food as a primary way of making themselves feel better when something is bothering them,” says eating disorder therapist Judith Matz. “People use food to deal with all kinds of feelings, such as boredom, stress, anger, loneliness, and sadness, and even happiness.”

Matz describes how she helps people deal with eating disorders: “A person with an eating disorder needs to learn how to handle their feelings. They need to realize, when I’m lonely, I eat. When I’m tired, I eat. When I’m sad, I eat.” Of course, people who do not eat, such as those with bulimia and anorexia, follow similar patterns. 

Once people make a connection between their feelings and their actions, a counselor can help them find other ways to get through that rough moment, without hurting themselves.

“It’s not a food problem but an eating problem,” Matz says.
 
Deal with compulsive eating
 
In groups or in one-on-one sessions, behavioral therapists help people turn around eating disorders with many techniques. It is not an easy process, but it is doable.

Matz says you can change the way you eat if you:

  • Become more mindful of your body and your actions.
  • Build an internal structure. Don’t go too long between meals or you will be at high risk of overeating.
  • Keep a little bit of food with you. It’s better to choose in advance what you want to snack on, than grab the first thing you find when you are hungry.
  • Listen to your body. When are you hungry? What are you hungry for? Something hot or cold, crunchy, or mushy, spicy, salty, or bland?
  • Learn your body’s signals that indicate you are full.
  • Stock your kitchen with only healthy foods you love.

Once you have compulsive eating under control, you can work on nutrition and portion control, along with other elements of a healthy lifestyle, including exercise, a social life, a spiritual life, rest, and stress management.

Night eating

Some people skimp at dinnertime and then reward themselves with snacks a few hours later. Depending on what they eat after meals, they could get 25 percent of their calories shortly before they go to sleep.

It is not easy for the body to digest food properly late at night. It is not designed for late-night snacking. So, when a person eats and then goes to bed, the body stores calories from that food as fat, usually around his mid-section.

If night eaters miss their snacks, they are miserable and cannot sleep. At the same time, eating before bedtime can lead to sleep apnea, indigestion, and other conditions that do not lend themselves to sound sleeping.

Night eating is not officially considered an eating disorder, but is a habit you want to avoid so that you can live well and feel good.

Resources

National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

NEDA Helpline
800-931-2237

Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by TN Hanh and L. Cheung. HarperCollins. 2010.

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Marsha Marcus, PhD, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA; Judith Matz, LCSW, therapist specializing in treating eating disorders, Skokie, IL.
Reviewed by Romeo Purugganan, MD, DABPN, Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical or health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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