Understanding Eating Disorders

Hollie Dubroc, RN
February 14, 2022
(5 mins read)
Women's health

The concepts of healthy eating are a controversial subject for the majority of women. We are all surrounded constantly by the topics around food and body image through television, intranet, ads, family, and friends. The majority of these topics are fueled with negative perceptions and ideations. Women also live in a typical high stress state in an attempt to meet social expectations combined with rapidly growing responsibilities between families and careers. Today, almost every woman has personally experienced or closely experienced someone with eating disorders first hand. While the proper statement to make is that no matter your body type, your overall goal is to be healthy. That statement seems simple enough, but other messages can jump into the driver seat and veer left instead. 

What are eating disorders?

An eating disorder is diagnosed when an individual exhibits health or psychosocial impairments from continual disturbances related to eating.

What are the types of eating disorders?

Anorexia Nervosa

Intense fear of gaining weight and distorted perception of body image

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake

Significantly underweight and unable to gain weight. This diagnosis is driven typically from an issue with food versus an ideology related to the individual to their image

Binge Eating Disorder

Rapid consumption of large amount of foods and large weight fluctuations

Bulimia Nervosa

Binge eating and then using inappropriate compensatory mechanisms to follow


Repetition of eating non-food substances that are inappropriate for developmental age level

Rumination Disorder

Repeated regurgitation of food

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder

Doesn’t meet full criteria for other eating disorders

Atypical anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa of low frequency or duration, Binge eating of low frequency or duration, Purging without binge eating, Night eating syndrome

How do eating disorders happen?

The reasons behind eating disorders are very individually driven. At times, there are multiple reasons perpetuating an eating disorder. Eating disorders can even be initiated from a single causative factor that then branches to multiple causative factors, which then all intertwine together. The majority of eating disorders primarily effect women, probably due to the pressure and focus towards women.

Again eating disorders are personally driven but can be derived from experiences, relationships, environment, or mental disorders. Each of these influences are very broad, but can only take the smallest exposure to have such a harmful impact. Listed below are purely examples of each of these influences.

Experiences may come from:

Abuse, clothes shopping, media, and competitive events.

Relationships can produce negativity from perceptions between peers, significant others, or respected influences in an individual’s life.

Environments of each individual can be very impactful to the cultural beliefs, moral viewpoints, or projected behaviors bestowed to them.

Mental disorders can correlate directly with eating disorders. These could include anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders, substance use disorders, and many others that initiate the eating disorder.

How are eating disorders managed?

This is a very complex question to answer; multiple variables that come into perspective. Many eating disorders go undiagnosed until they become significant or critical to the individuals health. There are also varying degrees of eating disorders from mild to extreme. Earlier recognition produces more successful recovery, but these cases are typically mild and difficult to detect.

Each eating disorder and an individual’s management of care will be completely independent of another one. To strive for successful recover, considerations for the diagnosis of the eating disorder itself, degree of the disorder, causative factors, previous attempts to maintain, and other comorbidities.

Pre-pregnancy management

Contraception discussions due to higher potential for unplanned pregnancies due to amenorrhea

If pregnancy occurs there are added potential for comorbidities including depression and smoking.

Pregnancy management

Three providers including an obstetrician, psychiatrist, and a dietician that are continuously on the same page should maintain prenatal care. The combination of specialties will strive to achieve optimal results for overall health.

Discussions should be aimed towards the fetus and their overall health and growth to provide encouragement for success.


Eating disorders can significantly increase the risk for postpartum depression.

Recommended and encouraged follow ups should continue into the postpartum period for successful recovery. Pediatricians should be entered into the multidisciplinary group to ensure newborn feeding needs and bonding are effectively maintained.

Where do we go from here?

Continued education about healthy habits and body image across the board needs to happen more frequently and consistently.

Early recognition through increased public education, parents and guardians, and universal screening by health care professionals.

Marketing limitations on negative body imaging perceptions through media or sales.