NJCMO Newsletter

One of the most pressing issues facing today’s youth is the rising incidence of eating disorders. Eating disorders don’t discriminate; they affect all genders, all races and every ethnic group. Anorexia, bulimia, and other disorders are characterized by an unhealthy relationship with food and body image.

Eating disorders often develop during adolescence, when young people are under immense pressure to conform to societal standards of beauty. Over 90% of individuals with eating problems are between the ages 12 and 25. For many people suffering from eating disorders, the drive to be thin becomes all-consuming, leading to dangerous weight loss and other health problems.

Eating disorders can have a profound impact on every aspect of a young person’s life, from their physical health to their emotional well-being. Fortunately, there are treatments and services available that can help youth recover and lead healthy lives.

Types of Eating Disorders

There are three main types of eating disorders:

  • Anorexia nervosa is characterized by restrictive eating and an intense fear of gaining weight. Individuals with anorexia nervosa often have a distorted body image and see themselves as overweight, even when they are underweight. Anorexia nervosa can lead to serious health problems, including malnutrition, organ damage, and even death.
  • Bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating followed by purging. Individuals with bulimia nervosa often feel out of control when they are eating and engage in purging behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting or excessive exercise, to counteract the effects of the binge. Bulimia nervosa can also lead to serious health problems, including electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, and tooth decay.
  • Binge eating disorder is characterized by episodes of overeating followed by feelings of shame, guilt, or distress. Individuals with binge eating disorder often eat large amounts of food in a short period of time and feel that they cannot control their eating. Binge eating disorder can lead to obesity and other physical health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Causes of Eating Disorders

There is no single cause of eating disorders. Rather, they are the result of a complex interplay of genetic, biological, psychological, and social factors.

  • Genetic factors: Eating disorders tend to run in families, which suggests that they may have a genetic component.
  • Biological factors: Changes in brain chemistry may play a role in the development of eating disorders. Individuals with eating disorders often have abnormalities in the levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin.
  • Psychological factors: A variety of psychological factors may contribute to the development of eating disorders, including low self-esteem, perfectionism, and a need for control.
  • Social factors: The pressure to conform to societal standards of beauty can be a major contributing factor to the development of eating disorders. In our culture, thinness is often equated with beauty, success, and worthiness. This pressure can be especially intense for adolescents, who are bombarded with images of impossibly thin models and celebrities.

Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders

People with eating disorders often have difficulty recognizing or acknowledging that they have a problem. However, there are some common signs and symptoms that may suggest someone has an eating disorder.

These signs and symptoms include:

– obsessively counting calories or tracking food intake

– regularly dieting, even though weight is not a problem

– frequently making comments about being “fat” or “too big”

– extreme concern with body weight or appearance

– engaging in excessive exercise

– vomiting or using laxatives to purge after eating

– secretive behavior around food, such as hiding snacks or eating in secrecy

– avoidance of social situations that involve food

– frequently skipping meals

– extreme fluctuations in weight

If you notice any of these signs or symptoms in yourself or someone you know, it is important to seek help. Eating disorders are serious medical conditions that require treatment. With the right support, individuals with eating disorders can recover and lead healthy lives.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

There are several different types of eating disorders, and each one requires unique treatment. But in general, most eating disorders are treated with a combination of therapy, medication, and nutrition counseling. 

Therapy can help individuals with eating disorders explore the underlying causes of their condition and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Medication can be used to treat some of the symptoms of eating disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Nutrition counseling can help individuals with eating disorders develop healthier relationships with food and their bodies.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, seek professional help. Your local care management organization (CMO) can provide support services and help connect you with the resources you need to get treatment.
The Child Family Team Process is used by CMOs in New Jersey to implement a Wraparound Model. The Wraparound Approach is a team-based planning approach that involves individuals from various parts of a family’s life to help families achieve their goals while meeting the unique needs of each child. With the right support, eating disorders are treatable, and recovery is possible.


What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is defined as any condition that involves an unhealthy relationship with food. This can manifest in a number of ways, including restrictive eating habits, binging, purging, and using food as a coping mechanism. Eating disorders often coincide with other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders. They can also be triggered by trauma or major life changes. Left untreated, eating disorders can lead to serious medical complications and even death.

How do eating disorders develop?

Eating disorders develop from a complex interplay of genetic, biological, psychological, and socio-cultural factors. While there is no single cause of an eating disorder, certain risk factors can predispose someone to developing one. These include having a family member with an eating disorder, documented cases of untreated mental illness or trauma in the family, difficulties with regulation of emotions or impulsivity, being perfectionistic or achievement-oriented, and being exposed to sociocultural messages that promote thinness or extreme dieting. For example, yo-yo dieting, which is often glamorized in the media, can trigger disordered eating behaviors. And societal pressure to be thin can exacerbate body image issues and lead to unhealthy weight-loss efforts.

What are the consequences of untreated eating disorders?

The consequences of untreated eating disorders are serious and can be life-threatening. Eating disorders are associated with a number of physical and mental health problems, including malnutrition, electrolyte imbalances, hormonal problems, heart conditions, and psychiatric conditions. Untreated eating disorders can also lead to social isolation, substance use disorders, and suicide. According to a study published by the Journal of Eating Disorders, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, with a standardized mortality ratio of 5.86. If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, please seek professional help immediately by contacting your local care management organization.

How can families and friends help someone who is struggling with an eating disorder?

If you suspect that someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it is important to reach out and offer your support. Here are some ways you can help: 
Encourage them to seek professional help: Eating disorders are complex conditions that require expert treatment. If your friend or loved one is willing to seek help, offer to go with them to their first appointment or help them research treatment options

Promote body positivity: One of the hallmark symptoms of an eating disorder is severe body dysmorphia, or an unhealthy preoccupation with one’s appearance. Help your friend or loved one to see the beauty in their natural body by promoting body positivity. This can be done by engaging in positive self-talk around them, and avoiding comments about dieting or weight loss. 

Avoid triggering behavior: There are certain behaviors that can trigger disordered eating behaviors in those who are vulnerable. Avoiding these behaviors around your friend or loved one can help them to stay on track with their recovery. Some triggering behavior to avoid includes talking about dieting, discussing weight loss and engaging in negative self-talk. 

Be a source of support: One of the most important things you can do for someone with an eating disorder is to be a source of support. This means being there for them, listening to them, and offering encouragement. It’s also important to avoid judgment and instead offer compassion and understanding. Remember, recovery is a journey, and there will be good days and bad days. Just being there for your friend or loved one can make a world of difference.

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