Q & A

Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses that impact millions of people every year in the United States. Here we ask Dr. Dena Cabrera a few frequently asked questions about eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, their treatments and what to look for in loved ones who might be engaged in unhealthy eating habits.

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are serious and complex emotional and physical conditions that include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors about weight and food. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder are the most common eating disorders.

Anorexia nervosa is a form of self-starvation that occurs in individuals who develop an obsession with thinness and are unwilling to maintain a normal or healthy weight. Anorexia nervosa affects up to 3 million individuals in the U.S.

Bulimia nervosa is a condition in which individuals engage in repetitive cycles of binge-eating and self-induced vomiting or starvation in order to prevent weight gain. Many with bulimia nervosa also abuse diet pills and laxatives.

Binge-eating disorder is a pattern of disordered eating, it resembles bulimia but without the purging. Individuals with binge eating disorder eat to the point of discomfort, eat when they are not hungry, or eat alone because of shame about the behavior.

Eating disorders can damage the entire digestive system and purging behaviors can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions.

What forms of treatment are effective for eating disorders?

Dr. Dena Cabrera discussing eating disorders with an adolescent at Rosewood Ranch.

Dr. Dena Cabrera discussing eating disorders with an adolescent at Rosewood Ranch.

A comprehensive treatment program with distinct levels of care is effective for treating eating disorders. Treatment programs should be led by licensed professionals with certification and eating disorders expertise. Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders offers:

  • Residential Treatment
  • Partial Hospitalization Program
  • Intensive Outpatient Program

Our evidence-based treatment programs are developed based on scientific discoveries that address the specific eating disorder and any co-occurring disorders such as depression or anxiety. Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders also works closely with family members of the individual and integrates family members into therapy sessions.

Other forms of treatment include:

  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) — DBT combines standard cognitive-behavioral techniques for emotion regulation and reality-testing with concepts of distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindfulness. DBT therapy is found to be particularly helpful for those who struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing — a form of psychotherapy that helps resolve symptoms that result from traumatic and unresolved life experiences.
  • Equine Therapy — Caring for an animal can teach and facilitate self-nurturing, boundary setting, reduction in social anxiety, healing from obsessive compulsive disorder, accountability, responsibility, self-confidence, self-control, problem solving skills, assertiveness, empathy, emotional awareness, and much more.
  • Motivational Approaches — The focus of a motivational approach is to encourage you to see the negative aspects of your eating disorder or addictive behaviors, along with developing a desire to change your behavior. A motivational approach expresses empathy, rolls with resistance, and supports self-efficacy.
  • Psychotherapy — Psychotherapy, which has been referred to as “talk therapy” in common vernacular, allows you to discuss your thoughts and feelings, exploring how each affects your mood and behaviors. By talking about these issues with a professional therapist, you can learn to make positive changes in your mental approach and behaviors, therefore improving self-control and self-confidence, gaining a deeper sense of your authentic self.

What are some symptoms of an eating disorder?

If you believe that you or a loved one may be suffering from an eating disorder, you may want to look for changes in certain habits, appearance, and actions. Here are some things to look for:

  • Eating behaviors—An eating disorder will cause an individual to skip meals, or eat just a couple of bites, or maybe chew food but not swallow the food. A person with bulimia nervosa will eat and quickly find a restroom to purge. A person with binge eating disorder will eat large amounts of food without any sense of control.
  • Appearance—An immediate sign of an eating disorder is sudden and extreme weight loss. A person can seem preoccupied by their appearance and always look at themselves in the mirror. S/he will constantly weigh him/herself, or make negative comments about his/her weight.
  • Extreme exercising—Individuals with anorexia nervosa will more than likely spend a considerable amount of time exercising and be consumed with being thin.

If you notice any of these signs in yourself or a friend, I recommend you seek an evaluation with an eating disorder expert at Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders. A fully accredited and licensed hospital, Rosewood is one of the first and most experienced programs to provide comprehensive care for all stages of recovery from anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorderco-occurring addictions and mood/psychiatric disorders.

What if I need treatment?

If you believe you have or are developing an eating disorder, based on the descriptions above, it is extremely important to seek help immediately. Accepting that you have an eating disorder is a difficult thing to do. You may have already heard a friend or family member say they are worried about you. You may say to yourself that they are crazy or you may feel a little shameful that someone has noticed your behaviors. But most of the time, concerns from family and friends are often genuine, and you might want to consider talking to your physician before severe damage is done to your health.

At the very least, I recommend taking a confidential self assessment available on the Rosewood website: http://rosewoodranch.com/free-eating-disorder-assessments/#

A Rosewood Eating Disorder Intake Specialist can perform a professional evaluation of your situation, and/or offer you information about how to get help. Speaking with a professional who has specialized knowledge in eating disorders can help you determine what is right for you.

If you are under 18, the Rosewood staff will discuss concerns and treatment options with your parent(s) or legal guardian(s). Including your family members is important so they can help you with recovery. But above all else, you are and will be the most important person of your treatment team and decision making process.