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Eating Disorders and Weight Management 

Introduction

People with eating disorders have problems with their eating behavior, thoughts, and emotions.  They may use food as a coping mechanism for negative emotions.  They may attempt to control their weight by controlling their food intake.  Eating disorders are a real illness, not a choice.  Eating disorders can be treated.

Treatment plans for eating disorders include addressing emotional health, physical health, eating behaviors, and nutritional management.  Therapy can help address the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that contribute to eating disorders.  Nutritional management, nutritional counseling, and healthy exercise are important for a healthy body and healthy eating patterns.

Weight management means keeping your body weight at a healthy level and participating in a plan to attain and maintain your goals.  People who are overweight should eat a balanced diet and get regular exercise.  People who are underweight should eat a well balance diet designed to achieve an ideal weight and prevent losing weight once it has been gained.  Exercise is important for people that are underweight, but their exercise recommendations are different than those for people that are overweight.

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Causes
The cause of eating disorders is unknown.  There are several different types of eating disorders.  Anorexia nervosa causes individuals to be severely underweight.  People with bulimia have a pattern of over-eating and then purging by abusing laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or making themselves throw up to avoid gaining weight.  People with anorexia nervosa and bulimia may exercise excessively to burn off calories.  People with bulimia may be underweight, overweight, or maintain their appropriate weight.  People that binge eat or compulsively overeat consume extremely large amounts of food in a short amount of time.  They may be overweight or obese because they do not purge.

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Symptoms
People can become underweight if they do not consume enough calories from food and drinks.  People can become underweight if they exercise too much and burn off too many calories.  Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, can cause people to become severely underweight and lead to serious medical complications.  Untreated low weight individuals can develop malnutrition, dehydration, ulcers, diabetes, anemia, kidney failure, heart disease, electrolyte imbalances, liver failure, pancreatic failure, low blood pressure, and death.  People with anorexia have an increased risk for suicide. 

People can become overweight if they consume more calories from food and drinks than they burn off through exercise and activity.  A calorie is a unit of measure for energy.  Your body needs a baseline daily amount of calories to use for energy.  However, when people eat too much or make unhealthy food choices, they can consume more many calories than their bodies need.  If they fail to get enough activity to burn off the extra calories, the excess calories add up to extra pounds.
People that binge eat or compulsively overeat are at risk for severe health concerns.  If untreated, overweight or obese individuals are at risk for developing high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, bone conditions, and depression.  The cumulative consequences of overeating can lead to death. 

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Diagnosis

Early diagnosis and treatment is associated with the best results.  A psychiatrist can diagnose an eating disorder and any co-existing condition, such as depression or anxiety.  A complete medical examination may be necessary to evaluate the overall health of an individual.

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Treatment
Weighing too much or too little can lead to many health problems.  Weight management is an important component in the treatment plan for people with eating disorders.  The goals of treatment are to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and to restore your health.
You can learn what your ideal weight range is by looking at a chart or asking your doctor or nutritionist.  Ideal weight ranges are calculated for males and females, and adults and children.  Ideal weight ranges are based on your height and bone size. 
People can be small, medium, or large boned.
It is also important to know your body mass index (BMI).  The BMI estimates how much body fat a person has.  Your doctor, a nutritionist, or an exercise physiologist can measure your body mass.  BMI percentages help determine your risk for certain diseases.
Your doctor can make recommendations for a weight management program that is specific for your health needs.  A licensed nutritionist that specializes in working with people with eating disorders can help you gain control over your eating and restore your health.  The nutritionist can provide nutritional education and structured meal planning.  Additionally, any special menu requirements for other medical conditions, such as for diabetes or high blood pressure, can be included.  My Pyramid (www.mypyramid.gov) presents helpful guidelines for healthy eating and exercise.
Your doctor may refer you to an exercise physiologist that can help you formulate and gradually increase an exercise program specifically designed for your body.  By managing your weight responsibly, you can improve your health and reduce your risk for future health concerns.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.