The Answer to “Is Eating Disorders a Mental Illness?”

Get answers to questions like “is eating disorders a mental illness?” and “where to get eating disorder treatment?” here.

Table of Contents

Is Eating Disorders a Mental Illness: Overview

Mental illnesses are conditions that are often associated with disorders such as anxiety and depression. We often feel uneasy hearing the term “mental illness” because of a lack of proper understanding. 

Mental illness occurs when there is an alteration in the typical functioning of the brain. Health researchers say it can appear due to social, physical, and environmental factors. Mental illnesses can also be a result of trauma. One example of a mental illness is an eating disorder. People often ask, “is eating disorders a mental illness?”

Is Eating Disorders a Mental Illness

Questions About Treatment?

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Considering the Answer in Pursuit of Healing

The simple answer is: yes, an eating disorder is classified as a mental illness. Eating disorders are complex or severe psychological conditions that cause an individual to develop unhealthy eating habits. They negatively impact the psychological health and daily activities of the individual. Eating disorders are extremely dangerous. They can lead to a variety of health problems and can even be fatal if left untreated.

Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Detecting and recognizing the symptoms of eating disorders at an early stage helps to increase the chance of recovery. However, the individuals experiencing this disorder may not experience all the symptoms at once. The warning signs and symptoms also vary depending on the type of eating disorder. Common eating disorders and their symptoms are detailed below.1

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is one of the most commonly known eating disorders. It often develops in adolescence and the early stages of adulthood. Individuals with bulimia nervosa tend to frequently consume a large quantity of food within a short period of time. The individual then purges their stomach via self-induced vomiting.

Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa

A person with bulimia nervosa feels like they cannot stop eating and control how much they eat. However, these individuals often purge to relieve gut discomfort. Some individuals often wonder “is eating disorders a mental illness?” because they feel it focuses only on food.  The following are some of the symptoms of bulimia nervosa:

  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Recurrent episodes of uncontrollable binge eating 
  • Severe dental problems, such as tooth sensitivity and enamel erosion
  • Calluses on knuckles from self-induced vomiting
  • Low self-esteem influenced mainly by body weight and shape

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is one of the most prevalent eating disorders among adolescents. It is a common chronic illness where individuals develop symptoms that are similar to those of bulimia. Although it typically develops during adolescence and early adulthood, it can appear at any age. 

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

Some of the symptoms of binge eating disorder that answer the question “is eating disorders a mental illness” are:

  • Stealing or hoarding food in unexpected places
  • Evidence of binge eating, which includes the constant disappearance of a large quantity of food in short periods
  • Persistent feelings of guilt, disgust, and depression
  • Secret recurring episodes of uncontrollable binge eating

Anorexia Nervosa

Individuals with anorexia nervosa often feel like they are significantly overweight or underweight. These individuals tend to obsessively monitor their weight and avoid certain foods. They often restrict their calorie intake, which may lead to malnutrition and eventually hospitalization and, in some cases, death. Research shows that 5.2% of adolescent girls met the criteria for anorexia.2

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

Some of the symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Drastic weight loss
  • Rigorous exercise regimes despite injury, illness, and fatigue
  • Layered dressing to hide weight
  • Inability to maintain a body weight that is appropriate for their build and height

Is Eating Disorder a Mental Illness?: Finding Treatment Answers

A commonly asked question about eating disorders is, “is eating disorders a mental illness?”  An eating disorder is a mental health disorder. It has more to do with mental health than lack of food intake. Reports from the National Institute of Mental Health say that the highest mortality rate caused by any type of mental health condition is that of an eating disorder. People with long-term eating disorders have an increased risk of kidney damage, reproductive problems, and osteoporosis.3

Although eating disorders are complex, they can be treated successfully. There may also be co-occurring disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and OCD. It is recommended to undergo a dual diagnosis treatment. This answers our frequently asked question, “is eating disorders a mental illness?: among various individuals.

Why Is it Important to Treat Not Only the Eating Disorder but the Root Causes?

The root causes of eating disorders are broad and complex, which makes individuals ask, “is eating disorders a mental illness?” Before treating eating disorders, it is vital to treat their root cause. Any individual with an eating disorder has a cause that facilitates it. The individual may not be successfully treated without treating the disorder’s root problem. 

Possible Root Causes of Eating Disorders

Several people still ask, “is eating disorders a mental illness?” because of a lack of proper knowledge about eating disorders.   There are psychological, sociological, and biological factors that can contribute to the development of an eating disorder.4

Psychological Factors

Some psychological factors can be the roots of a developing eating disorder. According to research, some identified personality characteristics are common among individuals with eating disorders. Some of these individuals are often sensitive, people pleasers, depressed, and perfectionists. 

Sociological Factors

In various cultures, thinness is valued, and individuals with thinner physiques receive praise regardless of the unhealthy habits used to achieve it. Most people engage in unhealthy eating habits to attain unrealistic goals. 

Biological Factors

Various biological factors contribute to eating disorders. Some examples of these factors are hormones, genetics, and microbiota in the gut.
The possible root causes listed above may answer the lingering question, “is eating disorders a mental illness?”
Is Eating Disorders a Mental Illness

How Mental Health Facilities Provide Effective Treatment

At mental health facilities, treatment options are available for the smooth recovery of individuals with eating disorders. These treatments are often tailored to the needs of the individual. Some of these treatments are detailed below.

Outpatient Therapy

In outpatient therapy, the patient meets with recovery professionals and nutritionists multiple times per week. It is the least restrictive care level for individuals with eating disorders. Outpatient treatment is helpful for individuals that need to attend school or work.

Intensive Outpatient Therapy

This treatment is best for individuals who require more support. Like outpatient treatment, these patients still have the flexibility to be in school or work. These patients will meet with the program for two to five days weekly at this level. Some of the treatment options at this level are family support groups and individualized therapy.

Partial Hospitalization Program

The individual will attend a PHP treatment for several hours and several days within a week. It is a step below residential and inpatient treatment. The individuals do not receive 24-hour care, and it takes place in a structured environment.

This type of treatment is advisable for individuals who are mentally and medically stable enough to transition into their day-to-day activities successfully. 

How to Avoid Future Relapses

The following are some of the ways to ensure support to reduce the chances of future relapsing:
  • Get resources and join support groups where you can express your mind and ask various questions such as, “is eating disorders a mental illness?”
  • Develop healthy lifestyle habits
  • Get professional help

Eating Disorder Treatment at Alternative Options

If you find yourself asking, “is eating disorders a mental illness?” Alternative Options is here to help. Although eating disorders are complex, our team can get you the help you need. We will develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your specific needs. We offer a variety of treatment options, including inpatient and outpatient programs, psychotherapy, and holistic therapy.

If you or your loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, you don’t have to do it alone. Contact Alternative Options today to find out more about our available treatment options.

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