Eating disorders are a serious, dangerous reality for roughly 30 million Americans. There are a wide variety of unhealthy relationships people may have with food, with the three most common being anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. There is no one specific cause for any of these eating disorders, meaning there cannot be any specific form of treatment.
Any of these disorders has the potential to create much more serious problems than some awkwardness at dinner parties. Anorexia nervosa is, in a nutshell, an obsession with avoiding food and maintaining a low weight. This condition may lead to low blood pressure, decreased heart rate, loss of muscle mass, reduced bone density, dehydration (which may lead to kidney failure), weakness, fatigue, and/or fainting spells. Bulimia is identified by a binge-and-purge pattern. A patient overindulges in food, whether in quantity or in calories, then is so overcome with guilt that he/she panics and tries to rid the calories from the body through self-induced vomiting, laxative use, or excessive exercise. It may lead to peptic ulcers, pancreatitis, irregular bowel activity, chronic constipation, tooth decay, esophageal problems, or electrolyte imbalances. Binge eating disorder is regularly overeating and is often associated with the same pain and conditions as obesity – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, type II diabetes, and/or gallbladder disease. Any one of these eating disorders may ultimately be a direct cause of death.
To be effective, treatment must vary on a patient to patient basis. However, it has been proven that psychotherapy or counseling combined with a focus on medical and nutritional needs is most effective. Some treatment plans may include medication, depending on the individual needs of the patient. If the eating disorder has progressed far enough that the patient has developed complications, treating the resulting complications will also be an important part of the patient’s treatment plan.
The first step to receiving treatment for any form of eating disorder is seek help. Your family doctor may be a good place to start. He or she can help you address any medical complications and may be able to refer you to a therapist or counselor. If your doctor is not able to make such a recommendation, your health insurance company may be able to recommend a professional in your area who accepts your insurance. The internet may also be an invaluable resource in finding a therapist. Websites such as PsychologyToday.com offer tools to help you find the most helpful therapist for your situation, including filters for insurance companies, issues dealt with, and treatment orientation. Your therapist and general practitioner should work together to help determine if medication may benefit you, as well as if you may need to include other specialists in your treatment plan.
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