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Eating disorders have affected about 30 million Americans, and due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, they have been on the rise. The anxiety and isolation many people have experienced during this time may have caused more eating disorders, and more people are reaching out for treatment.

Nearly one in five women experience an eating disorder by age 40. But it’s not just women — from 1999 to 2009, the number of men hospitalized for an eating disorder-related medical issue increased by 53%.

When Eating Behaviors Indicate an Eating Disorder

Is it a just a phase, a diet or is it disordered eating? Signs and symptoms of eating disorders can include:

  • Frequent dieting
  • Binge eating
  • Chronic weight fluctuations
  • Rigid or excessive exercise routine
  • Obsessive calorie counting
  • Purging (by using diet pills, laxatives or self-induced vomiting)
  • Anxiety about certain foods, or feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating
  • Self-worth highly dependent on body shape and weight

When these behaviors become frequent and severe, a person can be diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Common Eating Disorders

  • Anorexia nervosa: People restrict the number of calories and the types of food they eat, sometimes using extreme measures like excessive exercising or vomiting after eating because they see themselves as overweight even when they’re underweight.
  • Bulimia nervosa: People have recurring episodes of eating large amounts of food (bingeing), followed by efforts to rid themselves of extra calories through unhealthy means (purging), such as vomiting or using laxatives.
  • Binge eating disorder: People lose control over their eating and regularly eat too much, even when they’re uncomfortably full or not hungry. Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the U.S.

Getting Help Saves Lives

Early treatment for eating disorders is critical to avoid heart and brain damage, blood pressure problems and even organ failure. People with eating disorders also often have other mental health conditions such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder and are at greater risk of suicide and Substance Use Disorder.

  • Treatment typically involves psychiatrists, psychologists or counselors, dieticians and Primary Care Physicians (PCPs).
  • People with eating disorders need to learn new coping skills and develop a healthy relationship with food. This can be accomplished through nutritionist-led meal planning and psychotherapy.
  • Family-based therapy is another important component of eating disorder recovery. Family and friends can provide important support and help to establish a trusting relationship with a person who has the eating disorder.
  • There is no medication that can cure eating disorders. However, certain medications, such as antidepressants or mood stabilizers, can help with underlying anxiety or depression.

It’s important to find therapists and doctors who specialize in eating disorder treatment. Horizon members can always contact us for a referral. In addition, you can find a behavioral health provider or check out our guide to accessing mental health resources during the pandemic.

While eating disorders can be challenging to treat, know that recovery and remission are entirely possible. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder, don’t delay — reach out because help is available.