What are Eating Disorders and How Are They a Mental Health Concern?

Posted June 8, 2021

Eating disorders are mental health disorders and not just physical ailments.

  • Eating disorders involve unrealistic and unhealthy body image and relationship to food.
  • Anorexia is a type of eating disorder that includes an unhealthy perception of the body’s size and weight.
  • Bulimia is a kind of eating disorder characterized by binge eating and purging.

What Is An Eating Disorder?

Though it may seem that the term eating disorder is self-explanatory, it encompasses more than a difficulty with taking in and processing food. Eating disorders are equal parts mental health and physical health problems, and they require intervention by professionals from both disciplines. Eating disorders, as described in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, affect up to 30 million people in the United States. They are twice as common in women as men, and eating disorders often appear during adolescence or young adulthood. 

What Are Some Characteristics of Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are a mental illness that involves unhealthy interaction with food and poor eating habits. They often involve food fixations or an unhealthy obsession with the shape or weight of the body. People with eating disorders may starve themselves through food restriction, eat vast quantities of food on a binge, or purge by vomiting, using laxatives, or exercising to the point of collapse. Eating disorders can be life-threatening without appropriate intervention.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders can develop for many reasons, and science doesn’t understand completely why a person does or does not suffer from one. Here are a few of the most theories:

  • Certain personality traits may lead to the development of eating disorders. Perfectionism, impulsivity, and neuroticism are three commonly linked to these mental health conditions.
  • Genetics may play a part in developing eating disorders, based on research with twins raised separately.
  • Pressure from peers, family, the media, and other societal forces to meet a certain standard for body size and shape may contribute to developing an eating disorder.
  • Brain science and biology may make one person more likely than another to develop an eating disorder. Recent research identified brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine as possible contributors.

What Are the Most Common Kinds of Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders take many forms, and some are more well-known than others. Anorexia and bulimia are two of the most commonly recognized.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is probably the eating disorder with which most people are familiar. People struggling with anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight, no matter what the body mass index scale says. They may be obsessed with the number on the scale and starve themselves through severe reduction of calories. A person with anorexia may also avoid specific foods. Here are some signs to watch for if you think someone you love may have anorexia.

  • A weight that is significantly less than other people of the same height and age
  • A pursuit of weight loss that amounts to a refusal to stay at a healthy weight
  • A very restrictive way of eating or schedule of eating that may appear obsessive
  • An unrealistic body image or an inability to understand when the person is severely under a healthy body weight
  • A desperate fear of getting heavier and consistent efforts to avoid it, even when the person is under a healthy weight
  • Low self-esteem that is heavily dependent on the shape or weight of the body

A person with anorexia may seem obsessive-compulsive about food, eating, and the body. Some refuse to eat in public, for example. The disorder manifests itself as one or two varieties, either restricting or binging and purging.

  • People with restricting anorexia nervosa focus on losing weight by extreme dieting, fasting, or exercising beyond what is healthy.
  • The binge/purge form of anorexia nervosa involves eating large quantities of food or tiny portions.

Either way, the person purges the food from the body by vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, or exercising to the point of exhaustion. As time passes, people with anorexia suffer significant health impacts, such as weakened bones, hair, and nails. They may experience thinning bones, infertility, and fine hair growing all over the body. Anorexia can be fatal as it damages the heart, brain, and multi-organ system, causing medical complications.

Bulimia Nervosa

Like anorexia, bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that most people have at least heard of, even if they don’t know anyone who has suffered from it. People living with bulimia eat large amounts of food in very short periods. This practice is known as binge eating. After a binge, the person feels terribly out of control and physically uncomfortable. Hence, they purge their body of the food by forcing vomiting, taking laxatives, extreme fasting, using diuretics or enemas, or exercising to the point of collapse.

While people who have a binge eating disorder use it to control weight, the behaviors also give them a feeling of control. While they are symptoms of some types of anorexia, one crucial difference is that people with bulimia nervosa usually stay at an average weight. However, they may continue to have an irrational fear of gaining weight.

Physically, people with bulimia may suffer from sore throats, worn down enamel on their teeth, swollen glands, acid reflux, and dehydration. A binge eating disorder can be fatal if electrolytes reach a critical level and cause a stroke or heart attack.

Where Can I Learn More?

At MHS, our team of caring professionals is knowledgeable in diagnosing and treating eating disorders as a mental illness. We can coordinate with another health professional who manages your physical care. We serve individuals from early adolescence through senior adults through treatment options customized to meet the needs of that population. Contact us today to schedule your assessment and get back on the road to better mental health. You can always reach out by phone by calling (651) 358-2163. We are here to help.

Featured Image: Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock

How to Choose the Right Therapist

Posted June 8, 2021

The help of a qualified therapist can help make the stresses of difficult times and day-to-day life more bearable.

  • You want to identify a therapist with whom you are comfortable sharing your most private thoughts.
  • When looking for a therapist, consider the credentials of the professional.
  • The most important part of the decision is whether or not you can form a productive therapeutic relationship with the therapist.

After such a stressful year, many people find themselves struggling to maintain a healthy mental state. Anxiety, worry, and stress can seem like constant companions. Other stressful life events, such as divorce, loss of a job, or grief, can compound those feelings. Finding a therapist can be a helpful way to cope with uncertainty, but the process of finding someone you’re comfortable working with can be intimidating. Here are some things to consider when you choose a mental health provider.

Who Can Benefit From Therapy?

The American Psychological Association estimates that almost half the households in America include someone who sought mental health treatment in the last year. For some consumers of mental health services, the therapist helps them get through a challenging season of life. For others, seeing a therapist is part of their coping routine in good times and challenging ones. Almost everyone can benefit from professional therapy at some time in their lives.

Here are some specific circumstances in which you should reach out immediately for the help of a professional therapist. These situations may qualify as mental health emergencies.

  • You feel overwhelmed by feelings of sadness, and you feel powerless to change your circumstances.
  • You try to address your problems, but you feel they only get worse, even with support from the people you love.
  • You have trouble with activities of daily living, such as going to a job or school and doing your work.
  • You constantly worry and expect bad things to happen all the time.
  • You practice self-harm, such as cutting your skin, drinking too much, or using drugs.
  • You deliberately sabotage your relationship with families and friends by starting fights or displaying aggression.

What Should You Look For in a Therapist?

When you’re searching for a therapist, the most important thing is to find someone with whom you are comfortable sharing very personal and private information. The conversations with your therapist will be uncomfortable at times, and they may include things you’ve never shared with your closest family and friends. You should trust and respect your therapist enough to listen when they speak. If you aren’t comfortable with the therapist, you won’t be honest about your feelings and bad habits. Without those admissions, you may not be able to make the changes you want to make.

The relationship with your therapist is sometimes called the therapeutic alliance, and it involves so much more than just the connection or lack thereof between client and professional. This interaction is so vital that the American Psychological Association’s research data indicates that the therapeutic relationship matters more than the type of therapy used. Whether the approach is cognitive-behavioral or psychotherapy, the method is only as successful as the partnership.

  • The two parties must agree on what is to be achieved through therapy and how to get there.
  • The client and therapist must be able to communicate clearly.
  • The pair should genuinely like each other enough as individuals to want to work together.
  • The client should consider whether the gender of the therapist will matter to forming the therapeutic alliance. In other words, do you want to work with a male or female therapist?
  • Clients may prefer working with someone close in age to them, or they may want to find someone older or younger.
  • Clients with a sincerely held religious faith may want a therapist who shares that religion.

Though the internet is a fantastic resource for finding information on all sorts of things, it’s not always helpful for finding a therapist. Even when you have a biography and picture, which you don’t always get, it’s hard to decide whether that person is a good match for your needs. The choices get even more complex with the advent of online therapy using texting or video. Recommendations from friends and family may be a helpful place to start. However, be aware that just because a friend has a great relationship with the therapist doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll feel the same way.

How Do I Know If a Therapist Is a Qualified Professional?

The qualifications to hold a license as a therapist vary some by state. In every state, though, mental health professionals go through a licensing process that includes a background check, significant supervised practice hours, and continuing education.

A few titles for mental health professionals are more common than others.

  • LCSW stands for Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
  • LPC stands for Licensed Professional Counselor.
  • LMHC is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor.
  • PsyD is a Doctor of Psychology, usually a psychologist.
  • Ph.D. is a Doctor of Philosophy.
  • In terms of mental health, MD stands for Doctor of Medicine and usually denotes a physician psychiatrist.

While it’s essential to know something about each type of professional’s qualifications, it’s probably not the best deciding factor in who you choose. As long as you know the person holds the appropriate degree and license, you know they met the requirements for education and experience and that they are bound by a code of ethics enforced by a state oversight board. The credentials can also tell you if the professional specializes in a particular kind of therapy. For example, a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor, or LCDC, specializes in substance abuse therapy.

Where Can I Learn More?

At MHS, our team includes highly qualified professionals from various backgrounds. If you’re struggling with maintaining a healthy mental state, let us help you find the right professional to assist you. MHS serves people from early adolescents through the senior adult years with different kinds of therapy tailored to the population’s needs. Contact us today to schedule your assessment. You can always reach out by phone by calling (651) 358-2163. 

Featured Image: BlurryMe/Shutterstock