Eating disorders are illnesses that combine unhealthy eating behaviors, a distorted view of one's body image and an obsession with weight. We all have days when we feel unhappy or uncomfortable with our bodies, but the key to developing a positive body image is to recognize and respect our natural shape and learn to think positively about ourselves. People with eating disorders are afraid of gaining weight and will diet, binge and purge even when their mental and physical health gets worse. Eating disorders can be short-term or last for many years. There can be lasting consequences that can affect physical and emotional health. Two of the most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Anorexia nervosa is described as self-starvation and a refusal to keep a minimum normal body weight. Symptoms include excessive weight loss, dry skin, sallow complexion, loss of menstruation, disturbances in the perception of body shape, and a strong fear of gaining weight, even when underweight. A person who is anorexic may develop a dangerously low body temperature, severe heart problems, weak bones, and may have a higher risk of infections.
Bulimia nervosa is described as repeated periods of binge eating followed by purging through vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, or compulsive exercise. Individuals with bulimia often have swelling of the feet, hands and cheeks, and serious dental, throat and intestinal problems. This disorder may go undetected because the victim's weight can be normal or even higher than normal.
After a thorough evaluation by a primary care doctor, treatment generally includes individual and/or group psychotherapy. Sometimes medication treatment is used, especially when the individual suffers from a co-existing depression or anxiety disorder. Learn more about your mental health benefits on TRICARE's Mental Health page.
Harvard Eating Disorders Center