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Eating Disorders

There is a common misconception that an eating disorder is simply a preoccupation with food or a lifestyle choice. But in truth, eating disorders are complex medical conditions that often require intervention from addiction treatment experts.

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An estimated 30 million people of all ages and ethnic groups suffer from eating disorders in the United States. One person dies as a direct result of an eating disorder every 62 minutes. The mortality rate from eating disorders is the highest among all mental illnesses.

At Boca Recovery Center, we recognize that an eating disorder is a serious and potentially fatal illness related to a person’s behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. We provide a range of treatment options for eating disorders, including psychotherapy, nutrition education, medical monitoring, and medications. It is important to understand that eating disorders commonly co-occur in individuals who are struggling with substance use disorders.  While it may vary as to which disorder developed first, treating one without treating the other simultaneously can often lead to feeling like you are playing a game of “whack-a-mole,” in that, if you treat one issue, there is a strong likelihood that the other issue will become more prominent. This is known as “symptom substitution.” The best way to address this is by working on the treatment of both issues at the same time.

In this article, we give you an overview of the different types of eating disorders and what causes them. We also list some of the signs that can help you recognize an eating disorder in a loved one. This will allow you to obtain treatment early in the course of the disease.

What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is an illness in which the affected person develops unhealthy eating habits. He or she experiences severe disturbances in eating behaviors. This can involve eating too much or too little. People with eating disorders are preoccupied with body weight and food. They tend to have low self-esteem and are highly critical of their bodies. There is a tendency to be a perfectionist. Individuals with eating disorders believe they are fat, despite oftentimes being at or even significantly lower than a healthy body weight. They see themselves as overweight, sometimes despite life-threatening malnutrition or starvation. There is an intense fear of gaining weight.

An eating disorder is an unhealthy attitude to food and nutrition. It can take over your life and make you severely ill.

Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. However, they are most common in young women between the ages of 13 and 17. Luckily, there are treatments that can help in recovery from eating disorders.

Causes of eating disorders

Several factors can cause or increase the risk of developing an eating disorder.


Studies in twins adopted by different families at birth show that eating disorders may be hereditary. If one twin develops an eating disorder, the other twin has a high risk of developing one too.

Society and culture

Sociocultural idealization of thinness and derogation of fatness is influenced by exposure to media and social media. In particular, young women feel pressured to be thin, leading to the development of eating disorders. Eating disorders are virtually non-existent in cultures that haven’t been exposed to the Western ideals of thinness.

Personality traits

People who have a negative outlook on life, are overly emotional or impulsive, or have a perfectionist attitude are at higher risk of eating disorders.


Certain professions and sports require a specific body type which can indirectly encourage eating disorders. For example, modeling, acting, gymnastics, figure skating, and jockeying require a lean body.

Family dynamics

Certain family attitudes can contribute to the risk of eating disorders in children and adolescents. Eating disorders are more common in families where the focus is on high achievement, being perfect, and looking a certain way. Parents’ concerns about their body weight or that of their children can lead to eating disorders. Young people who have troubled relationships with their parents are at a higher risk of eating disorders.

The therapists at Boca Recovery Center are skilled in treating eating disorders. We understand that eating disorders often occur together with other psychiatric conditions such as anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and alcohol and drug abuse. We use a holistic approach to eating disorder treatment to help our clients achieve better emotional and psychological health and resume normal eating habits.

Types of Eating Disorders and their symptoms

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is a well-known eating disorder that affects women more than men. It typically develops during adolescence or young adulthood. Individuals with anorexia can be dangerously underweight but still think of themselves as “too fat.” There is a tendency to constantly monitor weight, severely restrict calories, and avoid certain types of foods. Anorexics have a distorted body image and an intense fear of gaining weight. They tend to relentlessly pursue thinness through dieting and are unwilling to maintain a healthy body weight. Other symptoms can include refusal to eat in public or excessive exercise.

Over time, the lack of adequate nutrition in people with anorexia can lead to severe health consequences, including brittle hair and nails, thinning of bones, and infertility. In severe cases, anorexia nervosa can lead to multi-organ failure and death.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is another well-known eating disorder that also typically develops during adolescence and early adulthood. Bulimia is more common in women than in men. However, bulimia is different from anorexia in that people with bulimia tend to eat unusually large amounts of food within a short period. These foods are usually those they would normally avoid. The uncontrolled binge eating episodes are followed by an attempt to purge the excess calories through forced vomiting, laxatives, enemas, diuretics, fasting, and excessive exercise. Another difference between anorexia and bulimia is that bulimics usually maintain a relatively normal body weight. However, both conditions are associated with poor self-esteem, a fear of gaining weight, and an obsession with body shape and weight.

The purging episodes in individuals with bulimia can lead to sore throat, tooth decay, acid reflux, severe dehydration, gut irritation, and hormonal disturbances.

Binge Eating Disorder

People with binge eating disorder have symptoms similar to bulimia in that they lack control. Binge eaters also eat unusually large amounts of food in a short time. However, there is one important difference from bulimia. Individuals with binge eating disorder do not practice purging behaviors like forced vomiting to compensate for the excess calories. There is a tendency for binge eaters to eat despite not being hungry or even being uncomfortably full. The binge eating is accompanied by feelings of shame, guilt, and disgust, and for this reason, many binge eaters eat in secret.

Binge eating disorder leads to obesity and its complications, such as an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

There are a few other eating disorders that are far less common but equally dangerous.


This involves eating things that are not normally considered food, for example, soil, paper, chalk, hair, or laundry detergent. Pica puts the affected person at risk of poisoning, infection, nutritional deficiencies, and gut complications.

Rumination disorder

It is an eating disorder that can develop in infants, children, and adults. People with rumination disorder regurgitate previously swallowed food, re-chew it, and then spit it out or swallow it again. This is done voluntarily within 30 minutes of eating. It can lead to severe malnutrition and weight loss.

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder

This diagnosis was previously reserved for children under the age of 7. It typically develops in infancy or early childhood but may continue during adulthood. ARFID is equally common in women and men. It goes beyond simply being a picky eater. People with ARFID have a disturbed eating pattern with an extreme dislike for certain tastes, smells, textures, colors, and temperatures. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies and being underweight.

Recognizing an Eating Disorder in a loved one

An eating disorder is a mental health condition that requires treatment. It can lead to permanent damage if left untreated. The more time an eating disorder carries on, the more difficult it is to treat and the more severe are the health effects. However, eating disorders can be treated. If caught early, rehab can be started before the disordered eating develops into a full-blown eating disorder. Here’s a list of signs and symptoms that may indicate a disturbance in eating patterns.

  • Repeatedly says he or she wants to lose weight or look thinner or different.
  • Is always talking about “clean” or healthy eating.
  • Is always actively on a diet or talking about dieting.
  • Exercises excessively without increasing calorie intake.
  • Becomes anxious if he or she is unable to exercise.
  • Is interested in meal preparation but does not eat what he or she prepares.
  • Makes their meals separate from the rest of the family.
  • Becomes upset if there’s a lack of control over a food situation, for example, a change in dinner plans to a restaurant that doesn’t serve healthy options.
  • Uses the bathroom frequently following a meal.
  • Avoids eating in the presence of other people.
  • Has ritualistic food behavior, such as eating foods in a specific order or cutting food into small pieces.
  • Is depressed, anxious, fatigued, or irritable.
  • Has low energy and seems morose all the time.
  • Pursues perfectionism and wants to take on all sorts of activities and responsibilities and give 100 percent all the time.

The presence of one or more of these signs does not necessarily mean an eating disorder is either present or impending. Rather, it calls for increased awareness and monitoring to identify disturbed eating patterns.

Eating Disorder Treatment and Recovery at Boca Recovery Center

At Boca Recovery Center, experienced therapists treat eating disorders with a customized treatment plan based on the type of illness and the client’s symptoms. This usually includes a combination of psychotherapy, medical monitoring, nutritional counseling, and sometimes, treatment with medications such as antidepressants. Our clinical team also identifies any health problems caused by an eating disorder that need to be addressed.

Psychotherapy is the most important component of treatment for eating disorders. Therapy helps normalize eating patterns and achieve a healthy body weight. People struggling with eating disorders are taught to monitor their food intake and their moods. They learn to exchange unhealthy habits for healthy ones. Therapists also help clients develop problem-solving skills. Clients learn healthy ways to cope with stressful situations. Therapists work with the client to identify triggers that cause binge eating, purging, and other unhealthy eating behaviors.

The goal of eating disorder treatment is to improve a person’s relationship with food and develop a positive body image. A combination of different therapies is used to achieve this, including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and family therapy. Group therapy sessions involve meeting others diagnosed with eating disorders. This helps people with anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders understand their thoughts and behaviors related to eating and learn skills to manage them.

At Boca Recovery Center, we understand that managing an eating disorder is a challenging problem. We have a team of professionals who specialize in eating disorder treatment.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, get in touch with us today. We are here to help you change unhealthy eating behaviors, restore healthy eating patterns, and achieve a healthy body weight.

Updated July 24, 2023
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