Eating disorders develop from a variety of biological, psychological and social factors. Cultural pressure alone does not cause eating disorders.
Like other mental illnesses, eating disorders are triggered by a complex mix of individual psychological characteristics, genetics and environment. In fact, studies have found that eating disorders are at least 50% genetic. Although anorexia and bulimia manifest differently, they share some key characteristics. A significant number of people experience “diagnostic flux,” meaning they cross over from one disorder to the other.
The earlier you receive treatment for eating disorders, the easier they are to treat and the fewer physical issues you’ll have to deal with. Eating disorders can lead to devastating health consequences, including gastrointestinal issues, bone loss, heart abnormalities, hormonal and electrolyte disturbances, and, in the case of bulimia, ruptured esophagus from forced vomiting. If left untreated, mortality is high for these disorders, from organ failure or suicide.
Family Based Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies appear to have the highest rates of success in treating eating disorders. You might receive medications to treat accompanying depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, as well as nutritional counseling to help reestablish healthy eating patterns. We often take a team treatment approach for best results; the team may include a primary care doctor, a registered dietician with expertise in eating disorders, and a therapist with specialized training in eating disorders.