Frequently asked questions about Eating Disorders

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Are EDs illnesses?

Yes. The EDs are mental illnesses. For a good prognosis, it is essential to detect them on time and, for that reason, it is essential to have actions directed at the prevention, and count on the motivation of the people affected and their families.  

Can EDs be treated?

The EDs can be treated. There are hospital units specialised in the treatment of these illnesses. In the event of the suspicion of having an ED, the individuals must go to their family doctor where the appropriate assessments are made to refer them, if necessary, to specialised unit.

How long does the treatment last?

The duration of the treatment of an ED depends on the time of onset of the illness, and of the physical and psychological deterioration that the patient has at the start of the treatment. It also depends on family support with which those that have this illness count on. On being very complicated disorders, the treatments are not short and often last for several years, for this reason the awareness of the patient as regards the problem and the determination to be cured is crucial for an adequate recovery.

Can a person with a normal physical appearance have an ED?

In many cases the physical appearance of the person that has an ED is normal. That is to say, they are not necessarily thin or excessively thin. To erroneously believe that everybody that has an ED is thin can make its detection difficult. In fact, someone with an ED can even be overweight, as in some cases of individuals with Bulimia Nervosa or Binge Disorder. It is important to remember that these are mental illnesses in which the main alterations are the thoughts, emotions, and behaviour.

Are the families to blame for their son or daughter having an ED?

No one is to blame or responsible for the appearance of an ED. They are illnesses that occur due to many factors in which no single cause can be looked for that led to the ED. The parents must look for professional help as soon as they begin to detect symptoms in their son or daughter, and go to a specialised centre. Factors that have an influence in EDs can be genetic, biological, psychological, as well as socio‑cultural.

Have the individuals with an ED decided to have it?

EDs are mental disorders that nobody chooses to have. They are disorders that cause intense suffering for the person affected, as well as those in their family environment. They always have causes of multiple origin in which several individual, family, and social factors play a part; so, although there may be people more or less vulnerable to having an ED, nobody decides to develop it.

What type of person has an ED?

EDs are more common in females (9 out every 10 cases are females), although males are also affected. They are also diagnosed in individuals of all ages, although the most common age of onset is in adolescence and young adulthood.

Are Eating Disorders problems of adolescence?

EDs can affect anybody at any age. The majority of cases are between 12 and 25 years‑old, with the highest incidence being in the 14 to 18 year‑old group. However, although it often begins to start in adolescence, and even pre-adolescence, it can also begin to appear in adults. The fact that the EDs often start in adolescence is usually because it is a time when a series of physical, biological, psychological, and social changes occur, as well as the re‑structuring of the personal identity that, with varying intensity, individuals experience during this life stage.

How can I help if a friend has an ED?

It can sometimes be difficult to talk about this subject with the person affected, since it is common for them to react with negative responses, concealment, or reject the help. But, despite this, it is important that on being their friend you offer to help them, since this support is very effective in order to confront the illness and to look for treatment. Thus, if you really observe that a friend behaves in a way that makes you suspect this problem, it is important to stay calm and wait for an appropriate time to be able to talk about the subject. It is important to give the person affected time to talk, show a willingness to listen, and try not to judge them, since they may lose confidence and become shut up within themselves. If the person is a minor, it is important to be able to contact an adult of reference in order to be able to explain the situation and the suspicion of the presence of an ED.

How should the family behave once treatment is started?

The action that the family must take is to follow the guidelines and instructions given by the therapeutic team. It is essential to follow the treatment program. For this, it requires understanding by the family, as well as security to follow the treatment at home. It is very important to show support and understanding, without judging those that have an ED.

Are the binges associated with Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Disorder a problem of willpower?

When we talk about Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Disorder we are talking about mental disorders that are characterised by the fact that the person affected is unable to control what they eat. In no way is it a matter of lack of willpower.

Información general de Mental Health in Children and Adolescents

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Substantiated information by:

Inés Hilker Salinas
Itziar Flamarique Valencia
María Caballero

Published: 14 January 2019
Updated: 14 January 2019

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