Eating disorders are diagnosed based on signs, symptoms and eating habits. There are 3 main eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa, fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, Bulimia Nervosa, the act of binge eating then purging or vomiting, and Binge Eating Disorder, eating until uncomfortably full in one sitting.
Although many eating disorders develop during adolescence, it is not unusual for people to develop eating disorders earlier and later in life. There have been cases of anorexia in children as young as 6 and some research reports cases developing in women in their 70s. Outside of the stereotypical age bracket, people are less likely to be appropriately diagnosed due to a lack of understanding and awareness of eating disorders in these age groups.
If a doctor suspects someone has an eating disorder, they will perform physical and psychological exams and request tests to help pinpoint a diagnosis. To get a diagnosis the person may see both a medical doctor and mental health provider. The exams and tests that are carried out generally include a physical exam. This is when a doctor will examine the person to rule out other medical causes for their eating issues.
A Psychological evaluation will be carried out and this is where a doctor or mental health provider asks about the thoughts, feelings and eating habits of the person looking for help. They may also be asked to complete psychological self-assessment questionnaires.
More tests may be carried out to check for any complications related to the eating disorder. Evaluation and testing may also be done to determine nutritional requirements.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, lists criteria for various eating disorders. This manual is used by mental health providers to diagnose mental conditions and by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.
Each eating disorder has its own set of diagnostic criteria. A mental health provider will review the signs and symptoms to see if the criteria for a specific eating disorder has been met. Some people may not meet all of the criteria but still have an eating disorder and need professional help to overcome or manage it.
Eating disorders are real, complex, and devastating conditions that can have serious consequences for health, lifestyle, and relationships. They are not a fad, phase or lifestyle choice, they are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health. The earlier a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the greater the likelihood of physical and emotional recover.