While many people who hear the phrase “eating disorder” picture the skeletal figure of an anorexic, but that is not an accurate depiction. The reality is eating disorders come in many forms, and manifest themselves differently in every patient. Many average weight and obese people also suffer from them. For experts who work with patients dealing with an eating disorder, recent research indicates there is a growing list of conditions that qualify for the diagnosis, including binge eating and obesity.

America’s Obsession with Weight

Experts now know that 33% of people who struggle with bulimia nervosa, and 87% of those with a binge eating disorder, are either overweight or obese. American’s obsession with weight has now resulted in a new array of diagnoses. Long considered a form of mental illness, more than 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from an eating disorder. The five prevalent eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia, purging, night-eating syndrome, and binge eating, which is the most common. If you ever thought of binge eating as a “normal” activity, it’s time to reconsider.

The Pathophysiology of Weight Gain

In homes where the atmosphere is characterized by stress and conflict, resulting family dynamics can have a significant negative impact on a person’s health. Weight concerns and control issues that become ingrained in the family dynamic can then lead to dieting behaviors that may increase the risk for eating disorders. Although most people occasionally overeat, binge eating disorder, or BED, carries with it the compulsive need to eat. What experts have discovered is that even people who are obsessed with “healthy” eating may suffer from an eating disorder referred to as orthorexia.

Orthorexia: A Not-so-Healthy Obsession

Dieters with perfectionist tendencies can easily make food an obsession. They fixate over the “right” foods to eat, looking for “healthy” and “pure” diets to follow. People with orthorexia frequently lack the nourishment they need to perform basic daily tasks and may avoid social situations where they fear they’ll lose control. This often leads to isolation and shattered personal relationships, resulting in a significant reduction in one’s quality of life.

Signs and Symptoms

Of course, adopting realistic weight-control goals is an important step for anyone wanting a healthy weight. Those who exhibit obsessiveness or lack of control with food, however, can first benefit from an evaluation. How to recognize the problem? Some of the signs of an eating disorder are:

  • Coming up with excuses for not eating
  • Adopting a severely restrictive diet
  • Obsession with “healthy” eating
  • Withdrawing from usual social activities
  • Complaining about being fat
  • Use of dietary supplements, laxatives or herbal products for weight loss
  • Excessive exercise
  • Problems with loss of tooth enamel, often a sign of repeated vomiting
  • Leaving the table during meals to use the toilet

For people who suspect a family member, child, or even they themselves may possibly have an eating disorder, awareness is the key. It opens the door to compassionate care that can help someone dealing with an eating disorder move forward with confidence, stability, and purpose.