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  • Writer's pictureKelli Rugless, PsyD

Eating Disorders: Symptoms, Treatment, & Resources

Updated: Nov 10, 2019

Eating Disorders are a group of very serious but treatable physical and mental conditions that impact a person’s ability to have an adaptive relationship with food and exercise. This unhealthy relationship can arise for a number of reasons but most commonly stems from body image dissatisfaction. Oftentimes this dissatisfaction is so intense that a person will feel forced to resort to extreme measures to relieve the negative feelings they are experiencing.

This can include severely restricting their intake of food, limiting their diet to certain food groups, compulsive exercise, self-induced vomiting, and over-eating. All of these behaviors can have significant physical consequences that, in the worst of scenarios, require hospitalization. Another significant consequence of an eating disorder is social isolation. In most cultures food plays a central role in a variety of social gatherings from dating, to birthdays, to happy hours, and even moments of grief. That being said, when eating becomes a minefield of fear, shame, and guilt, it is often easer to avoid those interactions in favor of solitude. Unfortunately, solitude can foster loneliness and depressed mood, which make it even more difficult for the individual suffering to confide in trusted loved ones or seek help.


Anorexia Nervosa is an illness characterized by weight loss (or lack of appropriate weight gain in children and adolescence), difficulty maintaining an appropriate weight for height, age, and stature, and an intense fear of weight gain. This often results in persistent behaviors that interfere with weight gain such as compulsive exercise and restriction of food intake. Some individuals that routinely restrict their intake might also have episodes of over-eating and/or purging.

Bulimia Nervosa is an illness characterized by a cycle of over-eating and compensatory behaviors meant to undo the effects of over-eating such as self-induced vomiting, exercise, or misuse of laxative and diuretics. Individual struggling with this condition often describe a feeling of being out of control and a experience extreme feelings of shame and guilt over this lack of control.

Binge Eating Disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States and involves recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food in a short period of time, feeling unable to stop eating or limit the quantity of food, followed by the experience of shame or guilt afterwards. Unlike bulimia nervosa, an individual suffering with binge eating does not regularly engage in any compensatory behaviors to undo the effects of the binge.

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder is a condition previously known as “selective eating disorder”. This condition involves limiting the amount of food that is consumed because of the uncomfortable sensory experience associated with eating (i.e. texture, taste, color). This is the one of the few subcategories of disordered eating that does not involve a negative or distorted body image.

The 9 Truths About Eating Disorders

Truth #1: Many people with eating disorders look healthy, yet may be extremely ill.

Truth #2: Families are not to blame, and can be the patients’ and providers’ best allies in treatment.

Truth #3: An eating disorder diagnosis is a health crisis that disrupts personal and family functioning.

Truth #4: Eating disorders are not choices, but serious biologically influenced illnesses.

Truth #5: Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, body shapes and weights, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses.

Truth #6: Eating disorders carry an increased risk for both suicide and medical complications.

Truth #7: Genes and environment play important roles in the development of eating disorders.

Truth #8: Genes alone do not predict who will develop eating disorders.

Truth #9: Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Early detection and intervention are important.

Are Eating Disorders Treatable?

Yes! There are a variety of different methods that have been researched and proven to be effective for the treatment of eating disorders. The effectiveness of each method is dependent on the diagnosis and age of the individual but the most widely used therapeutic options are CBT, Enhanced CBT (CBT-E), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Family-Based Treatment (FBT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy, and Psychodynamic Therapy. Dr. Kelli Rugless uses multiple methods to decrease the hold that eating disorders have on an individual’s life and overall wellness. Line up a free consult today and find out how she can help you overcome and flourish!

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