Eating Disorder

Identifying Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are not just about food. They are often a way to cope with difficult problems or regain a sense of control. They are complicated illnesses that affect a person’s sense of identity, worth and self-esteem. 

When someone has an eating disorder, their weight is the prime focus of their life. They are consumed with calories, grams of fat, exercise and weight which allow them to displace the painful emotions or situations that are at the heart of the problem and gives them a false sense of being in control. 

These behaviors can significantly impact your body’s ability to get appropriate nutrition. Eating disorders can harm the heart, digestive system, bones, and teeth and mouth, and lead to other diseases. 

Eating disorders often develop in the teen and young adult years, although they can develop at other ages. With treatment, you can return to healthier eating habits and sometimes reverse serious complications caused by the eating disorder. 

Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder are the most common eating disorders.  


1. Anorexia nervosa 

A person suffering with Anorexia nervosa —commonly known as anorexia —usually has an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of their own weight and body shape. They tend to use extreme efforts to control their weight and shape, which often significantly interferes with their health and lifestyle activities.  

Anorexia is characterized by excessively limiting calories or using other methods to lose weight, such as excessive exercise, using laxatives or diet aids, or vomiting after eating. Efforts to reduce weight, even when underweight, can cause severe health problems like heart and kidney problems, low blood iron, bone loss, digestive problems, low heart rate, low blood pressure, and fertility problems in women.   


2. Bulimia nervosa 

Those with Bulimia have episodes of bingeing and purging that involve feeling a lack of control over their eating. Many people with bulimia also restrict their eating during the day, which often leads to more binge eating and purging.  

A binge and purge episode involves eating a large amount of food in a short time, followed by trying to get rid of the extra calories in an unhealthy way. This happens because of the guilt, shame and an intense fear of weight gain from overeating. Those with bulimia may seem to be at a normal weight or slightly overweight and are preoccupied with their weight and body shape.  


3. Binge-eating disorder 

Binge-eating disorder is characterized by regularly eating too much food (binging) and a complete lack of control over eating. Eating quickly or eating when not hungry until a feeling of being uncomfortably full, followed by feelings of severe guilt, disgust or shame. A new round of bingeing usually occurs at least once a week. People with binge-eating disorder suffer with depression and usually keep their binging a secret.  


Diagnosis of Eating Disorders: 

Eating disorders are diagnosed based on signs, symptoms and eating habits. If your doctor suspects you have an eating disorder, he or she will likely perform an exam and request tests to help pinpoint a diagnosis. You may see both your primary care provider and a mental health professional for a diagnosis. 

Assessments and tests generally include: 

  • Physical exam. Your doctor will likely examine you to rule out other medical causes for your eating issues. He or she may also order lab tests. 
  • Psychological evaluation. A doctor or mental health professional will likely ask about your thoughts, feelings and eating habits. You may also be asked to complete psychological self-assessment questionnaires. 
  • Other studies. Additional tests may be done to check for any complications related to your eating disorder. 


Treatment for Eating Disorders: 

Treating a patient with an eating disorder usually involves a team of primary care providers, mental health professionals and dietitians. Treatment depends on your specific type of eating disorder. It typically includes nutrition education, psychotherapy and medication. If your life is at risk, you may need immediate hospitalization. 

The first thing to teach a patient with an eating disorder is how to eat healthy. The members of your team can work with you to design a plan to help you achieve healthy eating habits. 

Next, Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, can help you learn how to replace unhealthy habits with healthy ones. This may include: 

  • Family-based therapy (FBT). FBT is an evidence-based treatment for children and teenagers with eating disorders. The family is involved in making sure that the child or other family member follows healthy-eating patterns and maintains a healthy weight. 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is commonly used in eating disorder treatment, especially for bulimia and binge-eating disorder. You learn how to monitor and improve your eating habits and your moods, develop problem-solving skills, and explore healthy ways to cope with stressful situations. 


Although Medications won’t cure an eating disorder, certain medications may help you control urges to binge or purge or to manage excessive preoccupations with food and diet. Drugs such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications may help with symptoms of depression or anxiety, which are frequently associated with eating disorders. 

If you have serious health problems, such as anorexia that has resulted in severe malnutrition, your doctor may recommend hospitalization. Some clinics specialize in treating people with eating disorders. Some may offer day programs, rather than full hospitalization. Specialized eating disorder programs may offer more intensive treatment over longer periods of time. 

If you notice a family member or friend who seems to show signs of an eating disorder, consider talking to that person about your concern for his or her well-being. Although you may not be able to prevent an eating disorder from developing, reaching out with compassion may encourage the person to seek treatment.  

How to identify Eating Disorders - Dr Zaib - Health at Hand

Dr Zaib Shaikh

General Practitioner

If you have any questions or concerns about your health, or if you suspect you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder,  ask your Health at Hand doctor for advice through our app that can be easily downloaded from the App Store.  Click here for more information.