Eating Disorders: What are they? How do they affect your health? How are they treated?

Eating disorders are complex psychological disorders that cause serious health ramifications that can cause irreversible damage. They can impact a person’s physical and emotional health, self-esteem, academic or professional success, and relationships. It is common for a person suffering from an eating disorder to also suffer from anxiety, depression, substance abuse problems, or other mental health conditions. There are a number of diagnosable eating disorders; the most common are Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge-Eating Disorder.

Anorexia is a disorder that has three essential features that include persistent food restriction, intense fear of becoming fat or gaining weight, and distorted self-perceived body image. Bulimia has three features that include recurrent episodes of binge eating, recurrent behaviors to prevent weight gain (i.e. self-induced vomiting, misuse of diuretics, laxatives, or other medications, excessive exercise, fasting) and intense dissatisfaction with body shape and weight. Binge-Eating Disorder’s essential feature is recurrent episodes of binge eating that occur on average at least once per week for three months. Often these disorders are related to anxiety or depression and the eating disorder serves as a maladaptive coping strategy.

What does an eating disorder do to your health?

Living with an eating disorder is not only emotionally painful for the patient and his or her loved ones. There is no organ system spared by eating disorders. Health problems stemming from malnutrition caused by the eating disorder can cause irreversible damage, especially to the growing adolescent body. The following lists provide some physical signs and symptoms of an eating disorder.

Anorexia can cause:
Amenorrhea, losing your monthly period
Severe constipation
Hypothermia, reduced body temperature and cold intolerance
Lethargy, sluggishness, feeling tired 
Low blood pressure or slowed heart rate
Lanugo, fine body hair
Yellowing of the skin
Anemia, muscle wasting
Organ damage or failure

Bulimia can cause:
Hypertrophy of the salivary glands
Chronically inflamed or sore throat
Scars or calluses on the dorsal surface of the hand
Dental Enamel Erosion
Chipped or ragged teeth
Severe dehydration
Electrolyte abnormalities which can lead to heart attack or stroke

Binge-Eating can cause:
Weight Gain
Obesity which can lead to high blood pressure and cardio vascular disease
Health related reduced quality of life

How is an eating disorder treated?

As you can see by the lists above, eating disorders are serious illnesses that warrant effective treatment as soon as possible. There are several approaches to treating eating disorders that most often include a combination of psychotherapeutic services and medical care. Residential inpatient treatment programs require the patient to temporarily live at a facility to receive intensive medical and psychotherapeutic treatment to gain weight and stabilize health. Outpatient programs can vary significantly in the amount of time committed each week to treatment. More intensive outpatient programs run during business hours and allow the patient to return home each evening. Less intensive outpatient programs consist of regular weekly sessions with a therapist. When seeking a treatment provider, look for one that specializes in eating disorders who can develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your individual needs and condition.

Is recovery possible?

Yes! Complete recovery from an eating disorder is possible with treatment. Sierra Treatment Center of Sacramento ( is an outpatient center that focuses on providing the highest quality psychotherapeutic services for eating disorders. Our approach encourages maintaining regular work or school routines so that while in treatment you learn the necessary skills to adapt to life’s challenges without disordered eating. Our goal is to provide the highest level of patient care and confidentiality in a friendly, causal, and healing environment. We offer individual, couples and family therapy, as well as a Family Intensive Outpatient Program. Scholarship programs are available to those who qualify for financial assistance.