National Eating Disorders Association
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Understanding Eating Disorders

In a society so obsessed with health, when does striving to be “healthy” become dangerous? When does it turn into a problem? Many people are familiar with the more commonly known eating disorders - anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, but most people don’t know about another serious eating disorder: orthorexia nervosa. Orthorexia, while not yet an official diagnosis in the DSM-5, is a life-threatening problem that requires treatment.

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Eating disorders are surrounded by myths, stereotypes, and stigma, which can make talking about them feel like a challenge. One in 10 Americans will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Yet despite their prevalence, those affected often experience deep feelings of isolation. Friends and loved ones can feel lost and unsure about how to help. 

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The chance for recovery increases the earlier an eating disorder is detected. Therefore, it is important to be aware of some of the warning signs of an eating disorder. 

An individual with an eating disorder generally won’t have all of these signs and symptoms at once, and warning signs and symptoms vary across eating disorders, so this isn’t intended as a checklist. Rather, it is intended as a general overview of the types of behaviors that may indicate an eating disorder. If you have any concerns about yourself or a loved one, please seek additional medical help.

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Traumatic events are events that cause psychological, physical and/or emotional pain or harm.  

Traumatic events, especially those involving violence between people, have been found to be significant risk factors for the development of a variety of psychiatric disorders, including eating disorders—particularly those involving bulimic symptoms, such as binge eating and purging. 

Stress, Trauma and Coping

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An eating disorder diagnosis can be challenging enough on its own, but many individuals also have other psychological issues that can accompany the eating disorder. 

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Dr. Lesley Williams is a certified eating disorder specialist, family medicine physician and positive body image advocate. She co-owns Liberation Center, an eating disorder treatment facility, in Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. Williams is dedicated to ensuring that all women and men that struggle with eating and body image issues receive the help that they need to overcome and live happy, healthy lives.

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Eating disorders don’t happen in a vacuum – they are complex illnesses with close connections to substance abuse, trauma, obesity, and other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Myths and misinformation about eating disorders are everywhere, so it's time to get the facts straight and educate everyone about these serious public health concerns.

Learn more about eating disorders and help us spread the word by sharing these infographics (jam-packed with pictures, brand-new statistics, and a full list of references!).

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Binge eating disorder (BED), the most common eating disorder no one talks about, affects 1- 5% of the general population. Despite the fact that more people are struggling with BED than with anorexia and bulimia combined, it is widely stigmatized, misunderstood, and overlooked. 

Even the name—binge eating disorder—can inspire eye rolls from people who aren’t familiar with the devastating effects of BED. To get to the heart of this loaded term, we’ll walk you through it, one word at a time. 

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I took the screening  and it told me I could be at risk for an eating disorder...what do I do now?

First, congratulations for reaching out to the National Eating Disorders Association and finding the courage to take the screening. You’ve taken the first step to getting help! If your results show that you are at risk for an eating disorder, it means that you selected criteria that could be consistent with disordered eating behaviors and it’s time to get the help you deserve to overcome those thoughts and behaviors. 

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Anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorder affect up to 5% of young women, are associated with high use of medical resources, but often go unrecognized in medical settings. Men with eating disorders are even more likely to elude detection. All physicians should be alert to signs and symptoms of these relatively common behavioral disorders. Most cases respond to specialist treatment, although rates of medical morbidity, functional impairment and mortality are high, especially for anorexia nervosa, which has the highest mortality of any psychiatric condition.

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