Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is a serious illness characterized by severe disturbances in eating patterns and harmful thoughts and emotions regarding food and body image. 

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To those suffering from an eating disorder, the condition can be all consuming and emotionally devastating. Eating disorders can cause serious physical problems if left untreated and can even be life threatening in the most severe cases. They can cause heart arrhythmias, kidney damage, digestive problems, dental decay, bone loss, menstrual troubles and multiple organ failure.

There are three types of eating disorders, all characterized by an unhealthy obsession with food, eating and weight:

  • Anorexia nervosa – Eating very small quantities of only certain foods in order to stay extremely thin, often combining starvation with exercise, laxative use and other weight-loss methods.
  • Bulimia nervosa – Episodes of eating large quantities of food (bingeing) in a single sitting and vomiting or exercising excessively (purging) to avoid gaining weight.
  • Binge eating disorder – Regularly eating large quantities of food in a single sitting, without purging.

Most commonly, anorexia and bulimia affect women between the ages of 12 and 35, and binge eating occurs in men and women equally. In many cases, those struggling with an eating disorder also suffer from another mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Because of the complexity of eating disorders, they’re difficult to overcome without help.

Signs of an Eating Disorder

Most often, people with eating disorders don’t seek help. Some of the common behaviors that can indicate an eating disorder include: 

  • Skipping meals, making excuses for not eating and wearing baggy or layered clothing.
  • Developing stringent rules or rituals around eating, such eating only low-calorie or fat-free foods, chewing each bite a specified number of times or spitting food out.
  • Frequently complaining about being fat and looking in the mirror for flaws.
  • Secretive behaviors, such as eating in private, hoarding food or refusing to eat in public.
  • Withdrawing from friends and social activities.
  • Obsession with food, recipes and cooking, though not eating.
  • Frequently eating large quantities of high-fat or sweet foods.
  • Using diet pills, weight-loss supplements, ipecac, laxatives or diuretics.
  • Using the restroom or exercising immediately after meals.


Treatment for an eating disorder will depend on the type of disorder, but generally includes:

  • Individual, group and family therapy.
  • Medical care and monitoring, including medications.
  • Nutritional education and support.

At El Camino Health, we offer comprehensive treatment for young adults, provided by Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. The program addresses both the physical and emotional aspects of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Specialized professionals provide supportive, compassionate care based on the needs of each individual.