ZocdocAnswersAre eating disorders diseases or are they mental problems?

Question

Are eating disorders diseases or are they mental problems?

Pretty sure that my sister has an eating disorder and I am starting to get really worried about her. Is this a disease that she can be cured of or is it a mental problem? What can I do to help her? Take her to the doctor or a shrink?

Answer

The answer to your questions are yes and yes. Eating disorders are both diseases and mental illnesses which we often consider together. There are different classes of eating disorders, but the term is most often used to describe illnesses where people try losing weight in an unhealthy way. Bulimia is an eating disorder which involves periods where not much food is consumed followed by binges in which large amounts of food is consumed. The binges are often followed by and action to remove the food from the body either by vomiting or by the use of laxatives. Anorexia is a condition where a person purposefully eats less than the body needs for basic functions and therefore loses more weight than is health. Both conditions involve a distorted sense of self image. Most cases of eating disorders such as these are treated with both medication and counseling. The best first step is for you to get your sister to see her primary care physician. Her doctor will be able to make an official diagnosis if your sister does have an eating disorder. In addition, her doctor can start appropriate medications and make necessary referrals to a specialist she can talk to about her eating issues. Good luck.

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