ZocdocAnswersIs an eating disorder a psychological problem or a physical disease?

Question

Is an eating disorder a psychological problem or a physical disease?

I think that my cousin might have an eating disorder. She has lost a bunch of weight and is always talking about her weight. What can I do for her? Is an eating disorder a physical disease or is it a psychological problem and she needs to see a therapist?

Answer

Eating disorders cross and blur the distinction between problems that are mental and those that have a physical basis. There is obviously some association both within families as well as with other personality and character traits and behaviors and the various eating disorders, but it is not that simple. If someone you love has lost significant amounts of weight quickly and you are concerned about their health or their fixation on their weight, it is appropriate to discuss your concerns with them. Obviously, this is a tricky situation, as it people's weight is a very personal topic. It is also important to encourage healthy behaviors, and weight loss can be healthy for many of us on the heavy side of the spectrum. If you are concerned, a potential place to start would be to address the issue with some general questions. As some people want to talk about it and others will quickly become defensive, it may be necessary to speak with a closer family member or a guardian, who may be able to encourage the person to seek help from a physician sooner. Please use caution as you broach the subject, but it is appropriate to be concerned.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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