There’s no doubt that our culture places a strong focus on physical appearance. Nevertheless, most of us also look to other things to help us feel good about ourselves including our relationships with friends and family, our faith, or our performance at work or in other activities. For people with eating disorders, however, the focus on weight and shape becomes overly important. Often, people with eating disorders convince themselves that if only they looked a certain way or weighed a certain amount, they would be happy. This can, of course, lead to taking extreme measures to control ones weight.
Psychiatrist Dr. Julia Wood from Blount Memorial Parkway Psychiatric Service says there are three primary types of eating disorders. “The two most well-known types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa,” Wood said. “In both cases, people have a negative body image and place a lot of value on weight and body shape. Anorexia nervosa is a disorder in which a person eats very little to lose weight or remain at a very low weight. Bulimia nervosa is a disorder in which a person has episodes of binging, or eating a very large amount of food in a short period of time while feeling a loss of control, and later engages in behaviors to try to eliminate the food they’ve eaten. Classically, people with bulimia nervosa will make themselves purge the food by vomiting, though sometimes they will use other behaviors such as exercising excessively or taking laxatives to try to eliminate the calories they consume,” she explained. “Both of these disorders can lead to serious medical problems or death if left untreated,” she added.
Wood says the third type of eating disorder that has gained a lot of attention lately is binge eating disorder. “With binge eating disorder, a person will eat a very large amount of food in a short period of time while feeling loss of control and shame. However, unlike bulimia nervosa, people with binge eating disorder do not use purging, diet pills, excess exercise or any other measures to try to ‘make up’ for the calories they’ve consumed while binging. This disorder is not the same as simply ‘eating too much.’ Many people overindulge at times. People who have this disorder, though, binge often and do so in private because they’re embarrassed and ashamed by the behavior, and do not want others to see what they’re doing,” Wood explained.
Still, Wood says there is help for those who are battling an eating disorder. “Proper treatment of an eating disorder often involves a team of clinicians,” she said. “Therapy sessions with a therapist who is experienced in treating eating disorders is the mainstay of treatment, but medication may be used, as well. Also, a medial doctor helps address a person’s physical health, while a dietitian can help an individual work toward a goal of eating healthy,” she added.
There also are specific signs to look for if you believe someone you know may be battling an eating disorder. “The key things to notice are extreme dieting, fluctuations in weight, use of laxatives or diet pills, exercising excessively, having rigid rules around eating, and frequently comparing themselves to others in terms of weight and shape,” Wood said. “If you or a loved one need help, I recommend consulting your primary care provider, a psychiatrist or a therapist who specializes in treating eating disorders,” she added.
Dr. Wood sees patients at Parkway Psychiatric Service, located at 451 Blount Memorial Physician Office Building in Maryville. For more information or to schedule an initial appointment, call Parkway Psychiatric Service at 865-980-5377.