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Body Dysmorphia

Eating Disorders We Treat

What is Body Dysmorphia?

Body dysmorphia, also known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) in the DSM-5, is a mental health condition where people obsessively focus on perceived flaws in their appearance, often minor or unnoticed by others.  This can be a very distressing experience, leading to significant time spent checking mirrors, seeking reassurance, or trying to hide perceived flaws, sometimes resorting to cosmetic procedures.

Body dysmorphia is not about vanity; it’s a serious mental health issue that necessitates professional treatment. It can have a profound impact on daily functioning, extending far beyond mere dissatisfaction with one’s appearance.

Call 855-875-5812 to get help with an eating disorder.

Table of Contents

If you or someone you know needs help with body dysmorphia, reach out today.

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What causes body dysmorphia?

The exact causes of body dysmorphia are not fully understood, but a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors is believed to contribute to its development. These may include:

  • Genetic Predisposition: A family history of body dysmorphia or similar disorders
  • Brain Differences: Abnormalities in certain areas of the brain related to processing visual information and emotional regulation
  • Psychological Factors: Low self-esteem, perfectionism, or experiences of bullying or teasing, especially about appearance
  • Cultural and Societal Influences: Exposure to societal pressures and ideals regarding physical appearance, often propagated by media and social platforms

Body dysmorphia is a complex disorder influenced by a range of factors, rather than a single cause.

What are the risks of body dysmorphia?

Body dysmorphia carries several risks, including:

  • Mental Health Issues: Increased risk of developing anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Social and Relationship Problems: Avoidance of social situations and strained relationships due to excessive preoccupation with appearance
  • Health Risks from Cosmetic Procedures: Repeated surgeries or treatments which can lead to health complications.
  • Substance Use: Use of  alcohol or drugs to cope with the distress of perceived body flaws Impact on
  • Quality of Life: Significant interference with daily activities and overall life satisfaction

Considering the potential risks involved, it is crucial to treat body dysmorphia with the seriousness it deserves. Professional help is often necessary for effective management.

Understanding Body Dysmorphia

To grasp body dysmorphia, it is important to understand its complexities. This condition is closely tied to eating disorders, self-image, and weight concerns. Here’s how these connections generally work:

Inaccurate Self-Image and Body Dysmorphia

Body dysmorphia involves a preoccupation with perceived flaws in one’s appearance, which can include specific body parts or overall body shape and size. This distorted self-image can significantly overlap with the core aspect of eating disorders: a negative body image.

Focus on Weight and Appearance with Body Dysmorphia

In some cases, individuals with body dysmorphia might fixate on their weight and body shape, similar to those with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. This fixation can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors as the individual tries to alter their body to fit an idealized image.

Eating Behaviors Associated with Body Dysmorphia

While body dysmorphia is not solely focused on weight, the distress and obsession over perceived physical defects can lead to disordered eating patterns. This is particularly true if the individual’s concerns are related to body fat or muscle size (as in muscle dysmorphia).

Overlap of Body Dysmorphia with Eating Disorders

There is a clear connection between body dysmorphia and eating disorders, as both share a strong emphasis on appearance. This heightened concern can have significant effects, causing emotional distress and impairing overall functioning. However, it is important to differentiate body dysmorphic disorder from eating disorders, as the preoccupation with appearance in body dysmorphia cannot be explained solely by the presence of an eating disorder. There are distinct factors and nuances specific to body dysmorphia that contribute to its preoccupation with appearance.

Mental Health Impact of Body Dysmorphia

Both body dysmorphia and eating disorders can lead to severe psychological distress, including anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal. The intense focus on body image concerns can severely impact an individual’s quality of life and mental health.

What is the relationship between body dysmorphia and weight?

Body dysmorphia and concerns about weight often intersect, but they are distinct issues. Individuals with body dysmorphia may fixate on specific body parts or their overall body shape, which can include weight-related concerns. However, body dysmorphia focuses more broadly on perceived physical flaws, not exclusively on weight. In contrast, weight-related concerns are more central in conditions like anorexia or bulimia nervosa. It’s important to differentiate between these conditions, as they each have unique characteristics and require different treatment approaches.

Muscle Dysmorphia

Muscle dysmorphia is a type of body dysmorphia that can affect people of all genders, but is commonly associated with men. It is a condition where a person is maladaptively concerned with the composition of their body in terms of muscle and fat; they experience their bodies as lacking in muscle.

People in such a mindset aren’t necessarily focused on being as thin as possible. More often, they will express a desire to build muscle and lower body fat. Working out, bodybuilding, and/or taking supplements are usually a prime preoccupation, as they try to reshape their bodies and bulk up. Those with muscle dysmorphia desire to become bigger and leaner; it’s a difference in emphasis from people who want to be just thinner in general.

Furthermore, beyond the interest in muscularity, people with muscle dysmorphia  are sometimes obsessed with food. It is not uncommon for people experiencing muscle dysmorphia to exercise excessively, adhere to strict diets, and engage in other disordered behaviors.

Treatment and Recovery

How can you recover from body dysmorphia?

There is hope for recovery from body dysmorphia. Recovering from body dysmorphia typically involves a combination of therapies:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of talk therapy that helps individuals identify and change negative thinking patterns and behaviors related to body dysmorphia.
  • Medication: Certain antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can be effective in treating BDD symptoms.
  • Support Groups: Participating in body dysmorphia-specific support groups can provide understanding, shared experiences, and coping strategies.
  • Self-Care and Stress Management: Practices like mindfulness, relaxation techniques, and appropriate (not excessive) physical activity can support overall mental health.
  • Education: Learning about body dysmorphia can help individuals and their loved ones understand the condition better.

How does Veritas Collaborative help people with body dysmorphia?

At Veritas Collaborative, our approach is to focus on the individual as a whole, beyond just the symptoms of an eating disorder. Our skilled multidisciplinary team offers tailored, empathetic, and expert care. We see you as more than your condition, and we’re dedicated to treating every aspect of your well-being.

Veritas Collaborative’s Treatment Approaches to Body Dysmorphia

Treatment for body dysmorphia at Veritas Collaborative often involves a combination of psychotherapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), medication, and other counseling focused on body image and self-esteem.

Weight Restoration and Body Dysmorphia

Weight restoration in eating disorder recovery is about getting to a stable, healthy weight. It’s finding a weight that’s right for the person, covering their nutritional needs. While living with a restrictive eating disorder, such as anorexia, reaching this weight can take time and usually involves a big increase in calories to gain weight safely. Treatment teams often tailor a meal plan to help individuals achieve this goal.

Challenges of Weight Restoration with Body Dysmorphia

When recovering from body dysmorphia, weight restoration is particularly challenging because it involves significant changes in both eating habits and mindset. Those recovering from restrictive eating disorders often struggle with their bodies’ adaptations to low food intake and nutritional deprivation, which can make following a meal plan difficult due to feelings of fullness or discomfort.

Physical symptoms such as bloating, constipation, and headaches are common as the body readjusts to proper nutrition. These symptoms, while distressing, are typically temporary and improve as the individual consistently follows their meal plan. As the individual restores weight, medical professionals can closely monitor nutritional needs, ensure adequate intake of nutrients, and guide them toward a balanced and sustainable approach to weight restoration for long-term health and well-being.

Recovery from body dysmorphia also involves dealing with mental and emotional challenges related to weight gain, such as dissatisfaction with appearance and increased body image concerns.  These complex emotions arise especially after prolonged periods of restriction. Eating disorders significantly alter self-perception, relationship with food, and body image, making these thought patterns difficult to change during recovery. Therefore, those in recovery should seek support from both dietitians and therapists to navigate these emotional complexities and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Support and Awareness

What should you look for if you worry that someone has body dysmorphia?

If you are concerned that you, a loved one, or your patient  may have body dysmorphia, look for these signs:

  • Excessive Preoccupation with Appearance: The person may be overly concerned with a specific aspect of their appearance, which might seem minor or unnoticeable to others.
  • Engagement in Repetitive Behaviors: Constantly checking the mirror, excessive grooming, skin picking, or seeking reassurance about their appearance, etc.
  • Avoidance of Social Situations: Avoidance of social gatherings or public places due to appearance-related concerns
  • Emotional Distress and Impaired Functioning: Significant distress and impacted ability to function in daily life, including work, school, or relationships.
  • Seeking Cosmetic Procedures: Frequently seeking cosmetic surgeries or procedures, yet seemingly never satisfied with the results.

If these signs are present, approach the situation with understanding and encourage the individual to seek professional help. Body dysmorphia is a serious mental health condition that requires appropriate treatment.

Hear from Someone Who’s Dealt with Body Dysmorphia

Sarah Churchward, a professional writer and makeup artist, was diagnosed with body dysmorphia and narcolepsy in her late teens. Listen to Episode 13 of our Peace Meal podcast to hear Sarah’s story. 

Body dysmorphia is a challenging but treatable condition. If you suspect you or someone you know might be struggling, there is hope. With professional help and support, you can develop a healthier relationship with your body and improve your overall well-being.

Ask for help. You are not alone. Begin healing today.

Get Help for Body Dysmorphia

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Co-Occurring Disorders

Eating Disorders We Treat

Co-Occurring Disorders

Eating disorders often occur alongside a spectrum of other psychiatric and developmental disorders. While this can complicate treatment, understanding these relationships is critical to sustainable recovery.

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Common Co-Occurring Disorders

Certain eating disorders occur more often and can lead to a dual diagnosis with certain other psychiatric and developmental disorders. In general, comorbidities include:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar I and II disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Cognitive disorders

Ask for help. You are not alone. Begin healing today at an eating disorder treatment center.

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What is Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)?

Eating Disorders We Treat

What is ARFID?

ARFID aka Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder is characterized by a persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional and/or energy needs as a result of eating or feeding disturbances such as an apparent lack of interest in food, avoidance due to the sensory qualities of food, and/or concern over adverse consequences of eating food.

These disturbances are not associated with distorted body image or body dissatisfaction, but are associated with significant weight loss or faltering growth/developmental patterns (in children and adolescents); dependence on enteral feeding or oral nutritional supplements; and/or marked interference with psychosocial functioning. ARFID differs from most other eating disorders in that the physiological effects of the food are not the primary concern, in as much as the food itself is the concern for those suffering from the disorder. These disturbances cannot be better explained by a lack of food, cultural practices, or a concurrent medical condition or mental disorder.

Individuals with ARFID may experience extreme emotional dysregulation and anxiety around mealtimes, have a fear of vomiting or choking, and/or undergo thorough testing for chronic abdominal pain with no satisfactory findings.

Call 855-875-5812 to get help with an eating disorder.

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Types of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

  • Avoidant ARFID: Avoidance based on the sensory characteristics of food, such as its texture, taste, smell, or appearance
  • Aversive ARFID: Avoiding food due to a fear of negative consequences (e.g., choking, nausea, vomiting)
  • Restrictive ARFID: Characterized by general apathy or lack of interest in eating. This lack of interest in food and eating can manifest in behaviors like forgetting to eat, distraction during mealtimes, and/or extreme pickiness.
  • Mixed ARFID: Includes features of avoidance, aversion, and restriction. Usually starts with features of one type but then acquires features of the other types.  
  • ARFID “Plus”: Includes exhibiting behaviors from multiple types of ARFID. This leads to anorexia symptoms like body image concerns, fear of weight gain, and/or obsession with calories.

ARFID in Children

Origin & Recognition of ARFID in Children

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) can develop in children as young as six years old. It might initially be dismissed as typical picky eating, but over time, it becomes evident that the child’s food avoidance is more persistent and severe. Parents or caregivers may also notice that the child develops specific rituals or behaviors around food, such as only eating foods of a particular color or texture. They might also rely heavily on comfort objects or routines.

Social Implications of ARFID in Children

The social implications of ARFID disorder often revolve around school and family settings. Children might avoid school lunches, birthday parties, and/or family gatherings due to their food aversions, leading to potential isolation or peer teasing.

Health Concerns of ARFID in Children

The primary health concerns of ARFID disorder are related to growth and development. Prolonged restrictive eating can lead to nutritional deficiencies, impacting a child’s physical development, cognitive function, and overall health. The following are some examples of the health complications of ARFID: 

  • Malnutrition
  • Failure to gain weight and meet growth trajectories
  • Fatigue and sluggishness 
  • Gastrointestinal complications, such as bloating and constipation
  • Brittle nails, hair loss, or dry hair
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Anemia
  • Low blood sugar

ARFID Treatment Approach for Children

Treatment of ARFID disorder in children often involves a combination of psychoeducation, nutritional counseling, structured mealtimes, exposure therapy, family therapy, and behavioral interventions. Parents or caregivers play a crucial role in the child’s treatment, helping to implement dietary changes and provide support.

ARFID in Adults

Origins & Recognition of ARFID in Adults

ARFID in adults can be a continuation of childhood ARFID or emerge due to a traumatic event or other triggers in adulthood. Adults might be more self-aware of their condition but might also face societal judgment or misconceptions, making them hesitant to seek help. 

Social Implications of ARFID in Adults

The social implications of AFRID in adults can be more complex. Adults might avoid dates, work lunches, or social gatherings, impacting their relationships and professional lives. They might also face challenges when traveling or in situations where food choices are limited. These situations may lead them to research restaurants in advance, prepare their own meals when traveling, and find discreet ways to avoid certain foods in social settings. 

Health Concerns of ARFID in Adults

While growth is not a concern in adults with ARFID, malnutrition has harmful effects on adults and children alike. Malnutrition can cause health issues like bone density loss, fertility issues, or cardiac complications. Adults with ARFID might also have coexisting health conditions that require dietary management, complicating the illness.

Adults With ARFID Treatment Approach

The focus of ARFID treatment in adults is the specific triggers and implications of the disorder in their lives. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can be particularly effective in helping adults address underlying fears or beliefs about food. Psychoeducation, nutritional counseling, structured mealtimes, exposure therapy, and behavioral interventions are also components of treatment.

  

adolescent boy smiling at camera

ARFID in Different Cultures

ARFID is not confined to any one culture, society, or demographic. This illness transcends borders, affecting individuals from diverse backgrounds. However, the way ARFID and ARFID symptoms manifest and is perceived can vary significantly across cultures.

ARFID Manifestation Across Cultures

  • Dietary practices and preferences: In some cultures, specific foods are staples, while others might be considered taboo. Recognizing these cultural nuances is crucial for effective diagnosis and treatment.
  • Ritualistic eating: Certain cultures have ritualistic eating practices, such as communal feasting or fasting during religious events. Individuals with ARFID might find these rituals particularly challenging, leading to heightened anxiety or avoidance behaviors.
  • Sensory sensitivities: The textures, smells, and flavors that are predominant in one culture might be absent in another. An individual with ARFID might be more sensitive to the spices in Indian cuisine or the textures in African dishes, for instance.

Cultural Myths and Misconceptions about ARFID

  • “It’s just picky eating”: In many cultures, especially where food scarcity is a concern, ARFID might be dismissed as mere pickiness or a phase that a child will outgrow. This misconception can delay essential interventions and support.
  • Spiritual or supernatural beliefs: In some societies, eating disorders, including ARFID, might be attributed to spiritual or supernatural causes, such as possession or a curse. Such beliefs can stigmatize the individual and hinder access to medical care.
  • Gendered misconceptions: While eating disorders are often stereotypically associated with young women, ARFID affects individuals regardless of gender. In fact, boys are diagnosed with ARFID about as often as girls. In cultures with rigid gender roles, males with ARFID might face additional challenges in seeking help due to societal expectations.

What are the causes of ARFID?

Like all eating disorders, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder develops over a period of time as a result of a complicated blend of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. There is no single cause to point to and, despite common misconceptions, families, and communities of support are not to blame. In fact, they are often recovery’s strongest ally. Many individuals have genetic predispositions to ARFID that, depending on environmental influences, may or may not be awakened over the course of their lifetime. The mean age of diagnosis is 11 years; however, symptoms may present in infancy or early childhood.

For those suffering from ARFID, early treatment is paramount to a renewed healthy relationship with food and nutrition. Common causes of ARFID include:

Causes Of ARFID

Malnutrition-Induced Changes in Physiological Processes and Altered Hunger and Fullness Signals

Malnutrition can occur for reasons unrelated to ARFID (e.g., gastrointestinal issues, not enough variety of food in one’s diet, and an increase in energy expenditure) and this can prompt the development of the illness. Malnutrition can lead to significant changes in the body’s physiological processes. Over time, the body may adapt to being undernourished by altering hunger and fullness signals. This can create a vicious cycle where an individual feels less hungry, leading to selective eating or a lack of interest in food. Additionally, malnutrition can impact metabolic rates, hormone levels, and overall energy balance, further complicating the individual’s relationship with food.

Experiencing a Traumatic Event

Traumatic events, especially those related to food or eating, can be a significant trigger for ARFID. For instance, a choking incident, a severe allergic reaction, or a painful medical procedure involving the throat can lead to a heightened fear of eating certain foods or eating in general. The emotional aftermath of such events can manifest as avoidance behaviors, making it challenging to confront and overcome the trauma.

Genetic Predisposition

As with other eating disorders, genetic factors can play a role in the development and maintenance of ARFID. In fact, the genetic component of ARFID may even be compared to other eating disorders. According to a study, 79% of the risk of developing ARFID is explained by genetic factors. This study demonstrates that many individuals have a genetic predisposition that makes them more susceptible to developing ARFID. 

Abnormal Brain Circuitry and Weakened Food-Related Reward Pathways

Individuals with ARFID disorder may have differences in brain circuitry, particularly in areas related to reward and pleasure. The reward pathways associated with food might be weakened or less active, making eating less enjoyable or even aversive. This diminished pleasure from eating can contribute to avoidance behaviors and a lack of interest in food.

Temperamental Traits

Temperamental traits like cautiousness, fearfulness, or sensitivity to external stimuli can predispose an individual to develop ARFID. For instance, a child who is naturally more sensitive to textures, tastes, or smells might be more prone to avoid certain foods, leading to a pattern of restrictive eating as they grow.

Anxiety and ARFID

Anxiety plays a significant role in ARFID. Fear of trying new foods, worry about potential allergic reactions, or anxiety stemming from a past negative experience with food can all contribute to the development and persistence of ARFID. It’s also worth noting that individuals with ARFID often have coexisting anxiety disorders, further highlighting the intricate relationship between anxiety and restrictive eating behaviors.

individual looking down

What are the Signs and Symptoms of ARFID?

Being familiar with the signs and symptoms of ARFID can help you champion early intervention and recovery through ARFID treatment near you. Watch for dysregulated emotions around mealtimes, significant weight loss, and a failure to meet nutritional needs and growth trajectories. Associated disorders, or “comorbidities,” include anxiety disorders, autism spectrum disorders, and cognitive disorders.

ARFID Symptoms

  • Weight loss and nutritional deficiencies are a symptom of ARFID
  • Failure to meet growth trajectories can also be a symptom of ARFID
  • Emotional dysregulation and high anxiety around mealtimes is a common symptom among individuals with ARFID
  • Chronic abdominal pain lacking an apparent cause is a symptom seen often in individuals with ARFID
  • Fears or phobias around illness, choking, or vomiting can be an associated symptom of ARFID
  • Neutral or positive body image

What are the Long-Term Risks of ARFID?

ARFID can have extreme medical and physiological consequences that may or may not resolve completely during recovery.

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Delayed puberty or dysregulation of reproductive hormones
  • Impaired brain functioning and signaling
  • Weakened food-related reward pathways
  • Chronic abdominal pain, fatigue, and headaches
mother and child hugging

Is ARFID Treatment Near You an Option?

If you or a loved one are struggling with ARFID, don’t wait to reach out for help. The earlier ARFID is treated, the better the outcomes tend to be. ARFID treatment must be holistic and well-informed by the symptoms that accompany the disorder in each case that it arises, and Veritas Collaborative understands the importance of treating you as the unique person you are.

Getting Treatment For ARFID

At Veritas Collaborative, we work with you to create an individualized care plan so you or your child get the right treatment at the right time. We offer a full continuum of care, which includes inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization (PHP), intensive outpatient (IOP), outpatient, and virtual programs for children, adolescents, and adults. This allows us to provide best-in-class care and support throughout your recovery journey, even as your needs change. Our treatment programs focus on real-life skills, including hands-on nutrition and culinary experiences that you can take with you for lasting recovery. We encourage family involvement and offer family-based therapy and educational support for children and adolescents.

Ask for help. You are not alone. Begin healing today.

Get Help for ARFID

Key Takeaways about Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

What is ARFID?

ARFID is defined by an ongoing inability to fulfill proper nutritional and caloric requirements. This stems from issues related to eating or feeding, such as disinterest in food, aversion to certain textures or flavors, or worries about the negative effects of consuming food.

Unlike other types of eating disorders, ARFID doesn’t involve a skewed body image or dissatisfaction with one’s body. However, it can result in notable weight reduction, developmental delays, and social or psychological issues.

Causes of ARFID

The development of ARFID is a gradual process influenced by a mix of genetic, biological, and situational factors. There’s no singular cause, and it’s important to note that family and community support systems are not at fault.

The average age for diagnosis is around 11 years, although symptoms can appear earlier. Contributing factors may include changes induced by malnutrition, exposure to traumatic events, and societal norms.

Signs and Symptoms of ARFID

Emotional instability and heightened anxiety during meal times are typical.

Other warning signs encompass substantial weight loss, failure to achieve expected growth milestones, and unexplained chronic abdominal discomfort.

Risks and Consequences

Untreated ARFID can result in cognitive deficits, delayed onset of puberty, compromised brain activity, and other physiological complications.

Treatment and Support

Early intervention and treatment are crucial for better outcomes.

Veritas Collaborative offers a range of eating disorder treatment programs focusing on real-life skills and encourages family involvement for comprehensive care.

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Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder

Eating Disorders We Treat

What Is OSFED?

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) is characterized by eating disorder symptoms that cause significant distress and impair social or occupational functioning and/or have significant medical consequences, but do not meet the full diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder). Though individuals with OSFED fall outside the definitions of the other major eating disorders, this diagnosis nevertheless indicates that an individual is seriously ill.

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What causes OSFED?

Like all eating disorders, OSFED develops over a period of time as a result of a complicated blend of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. There is no single cause to point to and, despite common misconceptions, families and communities of support are not to blame. In fact, they are often recovery’s strongest ally. Many individuals have genetic predispositions to eating disorders that, depending on environmental influences, may or may not be awakened over the course of their lifetime.

  • Altered hunger and fullness signals
  • Experiencing a traumatic event
  • Genetic predisposition and societal pressures (e.g., drive for thinness)
  • Abnormal brain circuitry and weakened food-related reward pathways
  • Lack of environmental control and persistent, extreme stress, or minority stress

Our eating disorder treatment centers can be a place to heal and form new associations with food and your body.

peron looking forward

What to Look For

Being familiar with the signs and symptoms of anorexia can help you champion early intervention and improve recovery rates for anorexia nervosa. Things to watch for include body checking, significantly restricting food intake, and/or extreme food rigidity that allows for only small quantities of certain foods. Associated disorders, or “comorbidities,” include obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and social phobia.

  • People with anorexia often have a distorted perception of their body image and an intense fear of gaining weight.
  • Extreme food restriction, obsessive calorie counting, frequent body and weight checking, and excessive or compulsive exercise can all be signs of anorexia.
  • Hiding or throwing away food and/or skipping meals is commonly seen in people with anorexia.
  • Rigidity or obsessiveness also often accompanies anorexia, as does an intense fear of food or a specific food.
  • Cold intolerance, hair loss, and skin and nail discoloration are among the physical symptoms of anorexia.

OSFED Designations

  • Atypical anorexia nervosa: Motivated by a fear of being overweight, an individual may lose a considerable amount of weight and remain at or above normal weight for their age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health. However, all other signs of anorexia nervosa are present.
  • Bulimia nervosa (limited duration or low frequency): An individual engages in binge/purge behaviors associated with bulimia nervosa, but less than once a week and/or for less than three months
  • Binge eating disorder (low frequency and/or limited duration): An individual binges less often than typically seen in binge eating disorder
  • Purging disorder: An individual repeatedly engages in purging behaviors, but not in binging behaviors
  • Night eating syndrome: Episodes of binge eating occur at night while an individual is in some stage of sleep
An adult woman sits in a practitioner's office, appearing distressed.

Physical Symptoms of OSFED

  • Variability in body weight or significant weight changes.
  • Interruptions in menstrual cycles for females.
  • Reduced libido.
  • More frequent illnesses, hinting at a compromised immune system.
  • Evident damage from regular vomiting, noticeable as facial swelling, dental issues, and halitosis.
  • Experiences of fainting or dizziness.

Behavioral Symptoms of OSFED

  • Dieting behaviors like calorie counting, claiming new food intolerances, or avoiding certain food types.
  • Denying having eaten.
  • Social withdrawal or avoiding previously enjoyed activities.
  • Eating in isolation or covertly, avoiding others during meals.
  • Concealing or stockpiling food.
  • Purging through vomiting.
  • Chewing food and spitting it out without swallowing.
  • Visiting the restroom frequently during or after meals.
  • Increased involvement in food-related activities, such as planning and cooking, without consuming the food.
  • Obsessive actions related to food, like slicing food finely or eating very slowly.
  • Compulsive exercise, even when unwell or hurt.
  • Utilization of laxatives, enemas, diuretics, or appetite suppressants.
  • Constantly checking body appearance in mirrors or pinching body parts to check fat.

Psychological Symptoms of OSFED

  • Obsession with eating, dieting, exercise, and body image.
  • Reactivity to remarks about food, weight, diet, exercise, or body appearance.
  • Experiencing guilt, shame, or revulsion, particularly after meals.
  • Enhanced anxiety or agitation during meals.
  • Distorted body perception or unhappiness with body’s appearance or specific body parts.
  • Feelings of low self-worth, depression, anxiety, and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Long-term Effects of OSFED

  • Gastrointestinal complications, including potential harm to the esophagus and stomach.
  • Constipation and diarrhea.
  • Potential kidney damage.
  • Weakening of bones leading to osteoporosis.
  • Hindered growth in adolescents.
  • Infertility in both genders.
  • Cardiac issues, such as irregular heart rhythms and hypotension.
binge-eating

Key Takeaways About OSFED

  • Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) is marked by eating disorder symptoms that cause significant distress and impairment but don’t fit the full criteria for other major eating disorders.
  • OSFED arises from a complex mix of genetic, biological, and environmental factors, and there isn’t a single identifiable cause.
  • Some triggers for OSFED include altered hunger and fullness signals, traumatic events, societal pressures, abnormal brain circuitry, and extreme stress.
  • OSFED has various designations, such as atypical anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa of limited duration, binge eating disorder of limited frequency, purging disorder, and night eating syndrome.
  • Early intervention and treatment for OSFED are crucial, and Veritas Collaborative offers a range of care programs tailored to individual needs.
mother and daughter with therapist

Let Us Help You Recover

If you or a loved one are struggling with OSFED, don’t wait to reach out for help. The earlier eating disorders are treated, the better the outcomes tend to be.

At Veritas Collaborative, we work with you to create an individualized care plan so you or your child get the right treatment at the right time. We offer a full continuum of care, which includes inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization (PHP), intensive outpatient (IOP), outpatient, and virtual programs for children, adolescents, and adults. This allows us to provide best-in-class care and support throughout your recovery journey, even as your needs change. Our treatment programs focus on real-life skills, including hands-on nutrition and culinary experiences that you can take with you for lasting recovery. We encourage family involvement and offer family-based therapy and educational support for children and adolescents.

Ask for help. You are not alone. Begin healing today.

Get Help for OSFED

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Binge Eating Disorder

Eating Disorders We Treat

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurrent binge eating episodes that are accompanied by marked distress, a sense of lack of control, and feelings of self-loathing, disgust, or guilt. These episodes involve eating, in a discrete period of time, an amount of food that is objectively larger than what most individuals would eat in a similar period of time, under similar circumstances. Binge eating episodes are associated with eating much more rapidly than normal and/or until uncomfortably full; eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry; and/or eating alone due to embarrassment about the amount one is eating. Unlike bulimia nervosa, these binge episodes are not followed by compensatory behaviors.

Call 855-875-5812 to get help with binge eating disorder treatment.

If you or someone you know needs help with binge eating, reach out today.

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What causes binge eating disorder?

Like all eating disorders, binge eating disorder develops over a period of time as a result of a complicated blend of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. There is no single cause to point to and, despite common misconceptions, families and communities of support are not to blame. In fact, they are often recovery’s strongest ally. Many individuals have genetic predispositions to binge eating disorder that, depending on environmental influences, may or may not be awakened over the course of their lifetime. Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States and the most prevalent eating disorder among males. The mean age of onset for the disorder is 18 years, and the vast majority of individuals who are diagnosed with binge eating disorder also struggle with psychiatric, mood, or anxiety disorders, and/or impulse control and substance use disorders.

Risk factors for binge eating disorder include but are not limited to:

  • Restricting total food intake or intake of certain foods (e.g., dieting, cutting out food groups), leading to changes in physiological and psychological processes and altered hunger and fullness signals
  • Experiencing a traumatic event or major illness or injury
  • Having a genetic predisposition and encountering societal pressures (e.g., weight stigma, appearance-based teasing)
  • Facing a lack of environmental control and persistent stress associated with being a part of a historically marginalized community
Binge Eating Disorder - Symptoms, Causes & Treatments | A daughter hugging her mother from the back - binge eating disorder treatment

What are symptoms of binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder is characterized by several symptoms, including:

  • Recurring episodes of eating excessively large amounts of food, often rapidly and to the point of discomfort
  • A feeling of loss of control during these binge eating episodes, like you can’t stop eating or control what or how much you’re eating
  • Eating these large amounts of food when not hungry, or eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by the quantity of food consumed
  • Feelings of distress, shame, or guilt about binge eating
  • No regular use of unhealthy compensatory measures (such as purging) to counter binge eating

Is depression associated with binge eating?

Yes, depression is often associated with binge eating. Many individuals with binge eating disorder experience symptoms of depression, such as feelings of sadness, low self-esteem, and a lack of pleasure in activities they once enjoyed. The relationship between depression and binge eating can be complex and bidirectional, meaning that depression can contribute to the onset or worsening of binge eating, and binge eating can exacerbate symptoms of depression. It’s important for individuals experiencing both depression and binge eating to seek professional help, as treatment needs to address both conditions.


What is compulsive overeating?

Compulsive overeating is a disordered eating behavior that involves eating an excessive amount of food despite feeling full or not feeling hungry at all.

When someone compulsively overeats, it is often motivated by a subconscious desire to soothe difficult emotions or stressors. Though engaging in compulsive eating behaviors may provide some short-term relief, it is ultimately a maladaptive coping mechanism that often brings physical and emotional distress, as well as feelings of shame, anger, anxiety, or fear related to food.

Is compulsive overeating an eating disorder?

Compulsive overeating is not an eating disorder diagnosis but instead, a behavior that is present in several eating disorders, including binge eating disorder (BED), bulimia nervosa, and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED). Those who are affected by bulimia, for example, may engage in binge eating and then purge afterward. Compulsive overeating is usually seen in BED if it isn’t followed by any compensatory behaviors.

A person who struggles with compulsive overeating may eat an overwhelmingly large amount of food in a short period of time, or they may “graze,” eating constantly throughout the day even when they aren’t hungry. Compulsive eating often happens in secret, and the associated preoccupations with food can feel incredibly isolating. Once a person is engaged in compulsive overeating, the initial “high” may settle and the person may notice feelings of self-loathing, disgust, and guilt. Restriction or dieting may follow, setting up a cycle of additional disordered eating behaviors.

People of all body weights and shapes can struggle with compulsive overeating. Many warning signs accompany this disordered eating behavior, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and personality disorders. Compulsive overeating can present medical complications, including fatigue, digestive issues, hypertension, or hormonal imbalances.

What is the difference between binge eating and compulsive overeating?

Binge eating disorder and compulsive overeating, although closely related, have distinct characteristics that set them apart.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is characterized by episodes of consuming large quantities of food in a relatively short period, often accompanied by a feeling of loss of control. Binge eating disorder is a clinically recognized eating disorder, where individuals often experience intense feelings of guilt and distress post-binge.

Compulsive Overeating

On the other hand, compulsive overeating is a broader term that encompasses not only binge eating but also other loss-of-control patterns of disordered eating. It often manifests as a continuous pattern of eating large quantities of food throughout the day, not confined to specific episodes. Unlike binge eating disorder, this kind of impulsive, obsessive behavior is not a clinical eating disorder diagnosis but rather an eating disorder symptom.

Understanding the subtle differences between binge eating disorder and compulsive overeating can guide more targeted and effective treatment strategies, helping individuals navigate their way to recovery with a nuanced approach. Learn more about the difference between eating disorders and disordered eating.


What should you look for if you worry that someone has binge eating disorder?

Being familiar with the signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder can help you champion early intervention and recovery through binge eating disorder treatment. Because of the secretive nature of binge eating disorder, it may be difficult to spot some of the more well-known behavioral symptoms. Watch for excuses for meal absences, avoidance of social settings where food is involved, and comments about feeling after control after eating. Associated disorders, or “comorbidities,” include major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar I and II disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

While many symptoms of BED are internal struggles, be aware of these outward signs:

  • Eating objectively large amounts of food in a short period of time, and/or eating much more rapidly than usual
  • Marked distress after eating
  • Avoiding mealtimes and eating alone or in secret
  • Feelings of lack of control, guilt, shame, self-loathing, or disgust around food or eating

What are the risks of binge eating disorder?

Binge eating disorder can have extreme medical and physiological consequences. Like all eating disorders, the sooner an individual is connected with comprehensive, specialty care, the better their chances are for healing and resolving any complications of their eating disorder.

The medical complications of binge eating include:

  • Chronic pain including headaches, back, and neck pain
  • Digestive issues including constipation, bloating, and acid reflux
  • Cardiovascular complications including electrolyte imbalances, hypertension, and even heart disease
  • Endocrine issues including hormonal imbalances, irregular menstrual cycles, and liver disease
Binge Eating Disorder - Symptoms, Causes & Treatments | mother and daughter looking at each other smiling

How can you recover from binge eating disorder?

If you or a loved one are struggling with binge eating or compulsive overeating, don’t wait to reach out for help. The earlier binge eating disorder is treated, the better the outcomes tend to be.

At Veritas Collaborative, we work with you to create an individualized care plan, so you or your child with binge eating disorder gets the right treatment at the right time. We offer a full continuum of care, which includes inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization (PHP), intensive outpatient (IOP), outpatient, and virtual programs for children, adolescents, and adults. This allows us to provide best-in-class care and support throughout your recovery journey, even as your needs change. Our binge eating disorder treatment programs focus on real-life skills, including hands-on nutrition and culinary experiences that you can take with you for lasting recovery. We encourage family involvement and offer family-based therapy and educational support for children and adolescents.

Do I need binge eating disorder treatment?

Take our eating disorder quiz to see if you need binge eating disorder treatment. Veritas Collaborative created this assessment as a starting point. Don’t know what you’re struggling with? This quiz is a simple way to better understand your relationship with food and your body. The questions have been crafted with care to illuminate and pinpoint the core concerns of those who might benefit from eating disorder treatment. 

Where can I get binge eating disorder treatment?

At Veritas Collaborative, we provide treatment for binge eating disorder in person at our eating disorder treatment centers in the southeastern United States and virtually from anywhere online.

How can I learn more about binge eating disorder treatment?

Our eating disorder treatment specialists recommend you check out these books to deepen your understanding of binge eating disorder and binge eating disorder treatment:

  • Beyond a Shadow of a Diet: The Comprehensive Guide to Treating Binge Eating Disorder, Compulsive Eating, and Emotional Overeating
    — By Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel
  • Binge Control: A Compact Recovery Guide
    — By Cynthia M. Bulik, PhD, FAED
  • Overcoming Binge Eating, 2nd Edition: The Proven Program to Learn Why You Binge and How You Can Stop
    — By Christopher G. Fairburn
  • When Your Teen Has an Eating Disorder: Practical Strategies to Help Your Teen Recover from Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating
    — By Lauren Muhlheim, PsyD
  • Talking to Eating Disorders: Simple Ways to Support Someone With Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating, or Body Image Issues
    — By Jeanne Albronda Heaton, PhD, and Claudia J. Strauss

You can also contact Veritas Collaborative directly–we’re here to provide support, guidance, and education about our binge eating disorder treatment services.

Key Takeaways

  • Binge eating disorder is a type of eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large amounts of food in a short period of time, accompanied by feelings of loss of control and distress.
  • Binge eating disorder affects people of all ages, genders, backgrounds, and body weights, and can lead to physical, mental, emotional, and social consequences.
  • Binge eating disorder is often accompanied by co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.
  • Treatment for binge eating disorder typically involves a combination of therapy, medical and psychiatric care, and therapeutic-supported meals and snacks.
  • With appropriate binge eating disorder treatment and support at an eating disorder treatment center, recovery is possible, and individuals can learn to develop a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.

Updated April 2024

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Bulimia Nervosa

Eating Disorders We Treat

What Is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent binge eating episodes and persistent, inappropriate compensatory behaviors with the hope of avoiding weight gain. Binge eating episodes involve eating, in a discrete period of time, an amount of food that is objectively larger than most individuals would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances. Such episodes of bulimia are accompanied by feelings of self-loathing, disgust, or guilt and a sense of lack of control. Individuals engage in often dangerous compensatory behaviors that may include purging, fasting, compulsive exercise, and/or the use of laxatives or diuretics. Individuals with bulimia nervosa may appear healthy, even though they are very ill. Additionally, their self-concept is unduly influenced by body weight and shape.

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What causes bulimia nervosa?

Like all eating disorders, bulimia nervosa develops over a period of time as a result of a complicated blend of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. There is no single cause to point to and, despite common misconceptions, families and communities of support are not to blame. In fact, they are often recovery’s strongest ally for someone who is bulimic. Many individuals have genetic predispositions to bulimia nervosa that, depending on environmental influences, may or may not be awakened over the course of their lifetime. Communities of color are disproportionately affected by bulimia nervosa.

  • Malnutrition-induced changes in physiological processes and altered hunger and fullness signals in persons who are bulimic
  • Experiencing a traumatic event may tip someone into bulimia
  • Genetic predisposition and societal pressures (e.g., drive for thinness) may result in an individual developing bulimia or becoming bulimic
  • Lack of environmental control and persistent, extreme stress, or minority stress can lead to bulimia
A daughter hugging her mother from the back

What should you look for if you worry that someone has bulimia nervosa?

Being familiar with the signs and symptoms of bulimia nervosa can help you champion early intervention and recovery for someone who may be bulimic, through holistic bulimia nervosa treatment. Watch for elusive behaviors around mealtimes, inflammation around the mouth and knuckles, exercise-routine rigidity, hiding food, and/or immediately going to the bathroom after a meal. Associated disorders in individuals with bulimia, or “comorbidities,” include major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar I and II disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and substance use disorder.

Bulimia Nervosa Symptoms

  • Inappropriate conflation of body weight and shape with identity can be a sign of someone struggling with bulimia
  • Distorted body image and fear of weight gain
  • Eating alone or in secret and consistent retreats after meals is often characteristic of bulimia
  • Extreme exercise-routine rigidity, refusal to hydrate, and overuse injuries
  • Abrasions or scars on knuckles, inflammation around mouth, and burst blood vessels in eyes often accompany bulimia
  • Living in constant fear of gaining weight and trying to lose weight in unhealthy ways.

  • Repeatedly eating unusually large amounts of food in one sitting is a common symptom of bulimia nervosa.

  • Feeling a loss of control during binge eating. You might feel like you can’t stop eating or control what you eat when you are an individual with bulimia nervosa.

  • Vomiting on purpose or exercising to extremes after binge eating so you don’t gain weight is a symptom of bulimia nervosa.

  • Using medicines that make you urinate, called water pills or diuretics, or laxatives or enemas to pass stool when they’re not needed. This can be a bulimia nervosa symptom.

  • Fasting, limiting calories, or not eating certain foods between binges can sometimes be a symptom of bulimia nervosa.

What are the risk of bulimia nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa can have extreme medical and physiological consequences that may or may not resolve completely during recovery.

  • Dangerous, potentially lethal electrolyte imbalances
  • Bulimia can result in impaired decision-making and impulse control
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Tooth decay, muscle fatigue, and irregular bowel activity
  • Heart palpitations, low pulse, and low blood pressure may be consequences of bulimia
  • In males: decreased frequency of erections and nocturnal emissions
  • In females: polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometrial cancer, amenorrhea, difficulty conceiving, and if pregnant, increased risk for miscarriage and postpartum depression

How does purging (a prominent behavior of bulimia nervosa) affect the mouth?

Vomiting brings acids that are normally confined to the stomach into contact with the soft tissues in the mouth. This can irritate saliva glands and cause swelling around the jaw and cheeks.

Additionally, painful sores on the roof of the mouth, inner cheeks, inner lips, throat, and tongue are also common. Such sores can swell up and become infected.

Dry mouth may also develop, which, when combined with mouth sores, can be incredibly painful. Plus, dry mouth can make it harder for someone with bulimia to enjoy food because it can change food’s texture and taste.

Continual vomiting by a person with bulimia nervosa can also seriously damage teeth. Stomach acid corrodes the enamel that protects teeth. It also discolors teeth, leaving them with a yellow tint. When enamel wears away, a cavity could appear. Subsequent vomiting will then be even more detrimental to teeth that are already vulnerable due to cavities. It’s a vicious cycle. Ultimately, if a cavity isn’t filled, the tooth may loosen and fall out.

The purging associated with bulimia nervosa puts the gums at risk, too. Gingivitis often develops from frequent vomiting. This is when the gums become sensitive, red, inflamed, and likely to bleed during brushing or even from contact with tough foods. If gingivitis persists long enough, the gums may become so unhealthy that they can no longer anchor teeth effectively.


How does bulimia nervosa affect the heart and kidneys?

The frequent purging associated with bulimia nervosa often causes dehydration; furthermore, purging disrupts the balance of electrolytes in the body and puts undue strain on the heart. These factors increase the risk of heart attack or seizure.

People with an eating disorder (such as bulimia nervosa), are five times more likely to have a heart attack and six times more likely to have coronary artery disease than those without an eating disorder. The strain of repeated purging from individuals with bulimia nervosa can even lead to an irregular heartbeat. Prolonged dehydration, too, has long term effects: urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and even kidney failure, which could be fatal.

How does the repeated vomiting of bulimia nervosa affect the endocrine system?

Purging can interfere with the proper flow of hormones throughout the body. This can mean comparatively minor problems such as fatigue; however, hormone imbalances can also impede libido and disrupt menstrual cycles. Females may stop regularly releasing eggs. Males may experience a reduction or outright cessation of sperm production. Drastic hormonal changes brought about by continual vomiting can lead to infertility.

The purging characteristic of bulimia nervosa is especially dangerous during pregnancy. Dire complications can occur: miscarriage, premature birth, breech birth, birth defects, higher risk of cesarean delivery, and stillbirth. After birth, the mother may struggle with breastfeeding and weight gain, which in turn can cause stress that only exacerbates the cycle of bingeing and purging.


What does a bulimia nervosa diagnosis involve?

To assess whether you are struggling with bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder specialist must consider a number of factors. They will ask you about your relationship with food, body image, and exercise, and whether you’re experiencing any eating disorder behaviors, such as purging. They may look for physical signs and symptoms, as well as ask about your general medical history. Such questioning may seem scary; you might even feel that the very process inflames your eating disorder symptoms. It is essential, however, to answer a specialist’s questions as honestly and as fully as you can. Only with a clear picture of your situation in hand can they help guide you on a path to recovery. Understanding what to expect from the diagnosing stage can make it easier to ask for help.

Specifically, an eating disorder specialist may ask questions like these in considering whether to diagnose someone with bulimia nervosa:

How Doctors May Diagnose Bulimia Nervosa

  • Do you often feel out of control when you eat?
  • Do you ever make yourself throw up after eating?
  • Do you over-exercise or use laxatives for the sole purpose of weight control?
  • Is your self-image deeply tied to how much you weigh or what your body looks like in a mirror?

Furthermore, an eating disorder specialist may order physiological tests to get a better picture of how someone’s behavior has been affecting their body. They may order blood tests, urine tests, kidney function tests, and even an EKG (electrocardiogram)—such tests cover a broad scope of bodily systems, which reflects just how dangerous bulimia nervosa can be for your health.

mother and son hugging and smiling

How can you recover from bulimia nervosa?

If you or a loved one are struggling with binge eating and purging, don’t wait to reach out for help. The earlier bulimia is treated, the better the outcomes tend to be.

At Veritas Collaborative, we work with you to create an individualized bulimia nervosa treatment and care plan so you or your child with bulimia get the right treatment at the right time. We offer a full continuum of care, which includes inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization (PHP), intensive outpatient (IOP), outpatient, and virtual programs for children, adolescents, and adults. This allows us to provide best-in-class care and support throughout your recovery journey, even as your needs change. Our treatment programs focus on real-life skills, including hands-on nutrition and culinary experiences that you can take with you for lasting recovery. We encourage family involvement and offer family-based therapy and educational support for children and adolescents.

Key Takeaways About Bulimia Nervosa

  • Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting or excessive exercise.
  • The exact cause of bulimia nervosa is unknown, but it is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors.
  • Bulimia nervosa can have serious physical and psychological consequences, including electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, depression, and anxiety.
  • Treatment for bulimia nervosa typically involves a combination of therapy, medical and psychiatric care, and therapeutic supported meals and snacks.
  • Recovery from bulimia nervosa is possible with appropriate help at an eating disorder treatment center, and it is important to seek help as soon as possible if you or someone you know is struggling with this disorder.

Updated April 2024

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Anorexia Nervosa

Eating Disorders We Treat

What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an inability to eat enough food to maintain weight and/or growth trajectories; exceptionally low body weight; an obsessive concern with weight gain; and a distorted body image. Anorexia nervosa has two subtypes and can involve both severe restriction of food intake and binge/purge behaviors. The median age of onset is 12 years old and falling; the disorder has been diagnosed in individuals as young as five. Anorexia nervosa can be life-threatening, with mortality often associated with cardiac complications and suicide.

Call 855-875-5812 to get help with an eating disorder.

If you or someone you know needs help with anorexia, reach out today.

Get Help for Anorexia Nervosa

What causes anorexia nervosa?

Like all eating disorders, anorexia nervosa develops over a period of time as a result of a complicated blend of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. There is no single cause to point to, and despite common misconceptions, families, and communities of support are not to blame. In fact, they are often recovery’s strongest ally. Many individuals have genetic predispositions to anorexia nervosa that may or may not be awakened by environmental influences over the course of their life.

  • Biological factors such as genetics, altered brain circuitry, and weakened food-related pathways can all contribute to the development of anorexia. Malnutrition can also induce changes in physiological processes that regulate hunger and fullness signals.
  • Environmental factors including cultural pressures to conform to appearance standards, weight-based comments and teasing, and media messages can result in an increased risk of anorexia in those susceptible.
  • Psychological factors such as anxiety, depression, stressors, low self-esteem, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and trauma are among the contributing factors that could tip a vulnerable population group into developing anorexia.
person outside looking up

What are the effects of anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa has severe physical effects on the body. The physical impact of anorexia is pervasive, affecting various bodily systems, including the cardiovascular, integumentary, skeletal, nervous, gastrointestinal, and endocrine systems.

Cardiovascular System

  • Anorexia exerts significant strain on the cardiovascular system. Severe weight loss and malnutrition can lead to bradycardia (a slowed heart rate) and hypotension (low blood pressure). These changes are the body’s adaptive response to conserve energy. However, they can result in dizziness, fatigue, and even cardiac arrhythmias. In extreme cases, anorexia can lead to heart failure, which poses a grave risk to health.

Integumentary System

  • The integumentary system—composed of the skin, hair, and nails—is profoundly affected by anorexia. Malnourishment can cause skin to become dry and hair to become thin, fine, even brittle, or hair may fall out altogether. Nails may become brittle and prone to breakage. Additionally, the development of lanugo, a fine layer of hair that grows over the body as a response to malnutrition, is observed in some individuals with anorexia.

Skeletal System

  • Anorexia weakens the skeletal system due to calcium depletion from bones. This can lead to osteopenia or osteoporosis, conditions characterized by reduced bone density and increased risk of fractures. The loss of bone mass is a consequence of hormonal imbalances resulting from malnutrition and can have long-term implications for bone health.

Nervous System

  • The impact of anorexia on the nervous system is profound. Malnutrition can lead to cognitive impairment, affecting concentration, memory, and decision-making abilities. Individuals with anorexia may experience difficulty concentrating and processing information efficiently. These cognitive effects can significantly impair academic or professional performance.

Gastrointestinal System

  • The gastrointestinal system is adversely affected by anorexia. Prolonged malnutrition can lead to gastrointestinal complications such as constipation, bloating, and delayed gastric emptying. Additionally, refeeding after prolonged malnutrition poses risks of refeeding syndrome, a potentially fatal shift in fluids and electrolytes that can occur when nutrition is reintroduced.

Endocrine System

  • Anorexia disrupts the endocrine system, leading to hormonal imbalances that affect various bodily functions. Women with anorexia often experience amenorrhea, the absence of menstruation due to hormonal disturbances. Hormonal imbalances can also affect metabolism and energy regulation.

Anorexia nervosa has profound and far-reaching physical effects on the body. From cardiovascular strain to skeletal weakening and cognitive impairment, the consequences of anorexia are severe and potentially life-threatening. Early intervention and comprehensive treatment are essential to address the physical impact of anorexia and support recovery.

What should you look for if you worry that someone has anorexia nervosa?

Being familiar with the signs and symptoms of anorexia can help you champion early intervention and improve recovery rates for anorexia nervosa. Things to watch for include body checking, significantly restricting food intake, and/or extreme food rigidity that allows for only small quantities of certain foods. Associated disorders, or “comorbidities,” include obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and social phobia.

  • People with anorexia often have a distorted perception of their body image and an intense fear of gaining weight.
  • Extreme food restriction, obsessive calorie counting, frequent body and weight checking, and excessive or compulsive exercise can all be signs of anorexia.
  • Hiding or throwing away food and/or skipping meals is commonly seen in people with anorexia.
  • Rigidity or obsessiveness also often accompanies anorexia, as does an intense fear of food or a specific food.
  • Cold intolerance, hair loss, and skin and nail discoloration are among the physical symptoms of anorexia.

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What are the risks of anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa can have extreme medical and physiological consequences that may or may not resolve completely during recovery.

  • Anorexia can lead to serious health risks such as electrolyte imbalances, congestive heart failure, and sudden death, as well as gastrointestinal issues like constipation, bloating, and gastroparesis.
  • Osteoporosis, easy bruising, and the growth of fine white hair all over the body (lanugo) are commonly associated with anorexia.
  • Anorexia can impair a person’s decision-making abilities and impulse control.
  • Anorexia can also impact a person’s sexual health and result in decreased frequency of erections and nocturnal emissions, as well as amenorrhea, difficulty conceiving, and increased risk for miscarriage, low birth weight, and postpartum depression.

How can you recover from anorexia nervosa?

If you or a loved one are struggling with anorexia, don’t wait to reach out for help. The earlier anorexia is treated, the better the outcomes tend to be.

At Veritas Collaborative, we work with you to create an individualized care plan so you or your child with anorexia get the right treatment at the right time. We offer a full continuum of care, which includes inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization (PHP), intensive outpatient (IOP), outpatient, and virtual programs for children, adolescents, and adults of all genders. This allows us to provide best-in-class care and support throughout your recovery journey, even as your needs change. Our treatment programs focus on real-life skills, including hands-on nutrition and culinary experiences that you can take with you for lasting recovery. We encourage family involvement and offer family-based therapy and educational support for children and adolescents.

Key Takeaways

  • Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental illness that can have life-threatening consequences if not treated promptly and effectively.
  • The physical symptoms of anorexia nervosa can include extreme weight loss, malnutrition, and organ damage.
  • Anorexia nervosa is often accompanied by psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
  • Effective treatment for anorexia nervosa involves a multidisciplinary approach that addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of the illness.
  • Early intervention is crucial for successful recovery from anorexia nervosa, and family and social support can play a critical role in the recovery process.

Updated April 2024

Ask for help. You are not alone. Begin healing today.

Get Help for Anorexia Nervosa

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Eating Disorders We Treat

Eating Disorders We Treat

We’re changing the conversation.

Eating disorders are not a choice. Despite common misconceptions, eating disorders can affect anyone regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, body shape or weight, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. They are complex, psychiatric illnesses stemming from a variety of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. There is no single cause to point to or to blame. Eating disorders impact nearly 30 million people in the United States alone.

What is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder diagnosis is a mental and physical health crisis that disrupts personal, family, and community functioning for individuals as young as six years old. Many individuals will suffer for years or tens of years before seeking treatment—and even then may seek help only for the medical consequences, which not all providers will accurately attribute to an eating disorder. As such, eating disorders are often misdiagnosed. Early detection and intervention are critical components of a complete recovery. Unfortunately, culturally sanctioned misconceptions about food, weight, and diets, combined with the stigma associated with seeking treatment for any mental health disorder, often delay diagnosis and impede access to care. Eating disorders can be life-threatening, but they don’t have to be. Help us change the conversation around eating disorders and champion honest discussion, compassion, and early intervention.

Discover our eating disorder treatment centers

  • Anorexia Nervosa

    Persons with anorexia nervosa may see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight.

    What to look for:

    Frequent body/weight/mirror checking, severely restricted food intake, and/or extreme diet rigidity that only allows for small quantities of certain foods

    Learn more

  • Bulimia Nervosa

    Individuals with bulimia nervosa may appear healthy, even though they are very ill, and are unduly influenced by body weight and shape in terms of self-evaluation.

    What to look for:

    Elusive behaviors around meal times, extreme exercise-routine rigidity, inflammation around an individual’s mouth and knuckles, and delayed wound healing

    Learn more

  • Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

    Individuals with binge eating disorder may experience an array of extreme, negative emotions around food, mealtimes, and eating.

    What to look for:

    Binge-eating episodes that are not associated with inappropriate compensatory behaviors, but are associated with feelings of lack of control or self-loathing and occur, on average, at least once a week for three months

    Learn more

  • Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)

    Though individuals with OSFED fall outside the definitions of the other major eating disorders, this diagnosis nevertheless indicates that an individual is seriously ill.

    What to look for:

    A preoccupation with weight, food, appearance, and/or calorie counting; sudden/frequent mood changes; frequent standing, pacing, and/or fidgeting; and/or excessive participation in physical activity

    Learn more

  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

    Individuals with ARFID may experience extreme emotional dysregulation and anxiety around meal times, have a fear of vomiting or choking, and/or undergo thorough testing for chronic abdominal pain with no satisfactory findings.

    What to look for:

    Dysregulated emotions around meal times, significant weight loss, and/or a failure to meet nutritional needs and growth trajectories

    Learn more

  • Body Dysmorphia

    Eating disorders and body dysmorphia are closely linked, sharing common symptoms and behaviors that revolve around appearance, body image, and distorted perceptions.

    What to look for:

    Excessive focus on appearance and compulsive behaviors such as mirror checking to cope with appearance-related anxiety

    Learn more

  • Co-Occurring Disorders

    Eating disorders often occur alongside a spectrum of other psychiatric and developmental disorders. Taking an individual’s primary diagnosis into account when considering treatment is critical to their long-term recovery.

    What to look for:

    Regular displays of emotions that do not fall within a generally acceptable range of emotive responses

    Learn more

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