Advanced Care for Eating Disorders in New Jersey

Eating disorders are psychiatric illnesses that affect approximately 30 million children, adolescents and adults in the United States.

Eating disorders are not just about weight, but often have to do with ways that people cope with emotional issues. When you have an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, you measure your self-worth in ounces. The recovery process for an eating disorder involves much more than treatment for the physical illness.

RWJBarnabas Health offers stigma-free treatment throughout New Jersey to those suffering from the effects of eating disorders. Our nationally recognized Eating Disorders Program at Robert Wood Johnson University Somerset has been a pioneer, leading the research and treatment of eating disorders. It is one of only two programs in New Jersey with a dedicated inpatient unit.

With proper treatment, people living with eating disorders can develop inner resources and live normal, productive and happy lives.

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What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are serious illnesses that are associated with severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions.

Eating disorders affect individuals of all body sizes.

These disabling and often long-term illnesses typically coexist with anxiety, depression, shame, and isolation. They are also linked to self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Eating disorders disrupt families, interrupt schooling, damage careers, destroy relationships, and can even bring about deadly medical complications.

There are different types of eating disorders, and while each type has unique symptoms, the overriding similarity is that the eating behaviors often severely limit food intake or result in excessive overeating. These patterns are often triggered by negative self-esteem concerning body shape or appearance, but eating disorders are much more complicated than just the individual’s relationship with food. They are serious health conditions that affect both physical and mental health and can interfere with one’s ability to function in important areas of life.

Types of Eating Disorders We Treat

There are several types of eating disorders including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, the most well-known. According to the American Psychiatric Association. Eating disorders, which most often develop in adolescence and young adulthood, affect up to 9 percent of the global population.

Anorexia Nervosa

One of the most well-known eating disorders is anorexia nervosa, commonly referred to as anorexia. Anorexia is when a person’s body weight is less than 85 percent of their normal body weight. Individuals with anorexia have a distorted body perception, seeing themselves as “fat” when their weight is within or less than what is considered normal range.

Anorexia is characterized by:

  • Abnormally low body weight
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted perception of weight

Anorexia involves severe calorie restriction in a constant effort to lose weight. Many anorexic individuals do not only restrict calories, but they also exercise obsessively to burn off calories.

As a result of their eating behaviors, many individuals who have anorexia are malnourished from the lack of calories their bodies desperately need to carry out even the most basic biological functions. This can cause a host of physical troubles which can prove fatal without treatment.

Bulimia Nervosa

Another well-known eating disorder is bulimia nervosa, commonly referred to as bulimia. Bulimia is also characterized by an abnormal perception of body image, but unlike anorexia, which involves severe calorie restriction, bulimia is a condition where people have frequent and recurring episodes of eating large amounts of food – or binge eating.

People with bulimia feel a lack of control and intense shame over their behavior and typically follow their binge eating with purging, which can include any of the techniques below, or a combination of these behaviors, to compensate for overeating:

  • Forced vomiting
  • Fasting
  • Excessive use of laxatives
  • Excessive exercise

Because bulimia can lead to rare but potentially dangerous complications that can be life-threatening, it is vitally important to seek treatment.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is a condition similar to bulimia, where people lose control over their eating behavior and have recurring episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food. Unlike bulimia, however, periods of binge eating are not followed by purging, excessive exercise or fasting. As a result, people with this disorder often have larger bodies.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States.

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), previously known as selective eating disorder, is a condition where people limit the amount or type of food eaten. Unlike anorexia, people with ARFID do not have a distorted body image or extreme fear of gaining weight.

ARFID is most common in middle childhood and usually has an earlier onset than other eating disorders. Many children go through phases of picky eating, but a child with ARFID does not consume enough calories to grow and develop properly; an adult with ARFID does not eat enough calories to maintain basic body function.

We are Here to Help

Eating disorders are treatable mental illnesses that require the help of trained medical professionals to recover. RWJBarnabas Health offers stigma-free treatment to those suffering from eating disorders by using a multi-disciplinary approach to address the biological, psychiatric, psychological and related social issues.

Call our Behavioral Health Access Center today: 1-800-300-0628.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

Having an eating disorder is not caused by a lack of willpower or weak character. The exact cause of eating disorders is not fully understood, but research suggests a combination of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological and social factors can raise a person’s risk. Examples include:

  • Biological factors such as genetics and hormones
  • Major life transitions, such as going away to school or the death of a loved one
  • Family problems
  • Social or romantic problems
  • A traumatic event
  • Failure at work or school
  • A history of dieting
  • Society’s preoccupation with thinness and negative attitude toward those who have larger bodies.

Symptoms of Eating Disorders

People with eating disorders may exhibit some symptoms but also may tend to be secretive about their illness, disguising their thinness, eating habits or physical problems.

If you or a loved one is experiencing the following, it is important to seek an evaluation:

  • Dramatic weight loss through self-imposed dieting and/or binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting or the use of laxatives
  • Significant weight fluctuations which may be accompanied by severe gastrointestinal problems
  • Continuous concern with food, weight and body image which cause significant disruptions in their daily lives

Diagnosis of Eating Disorders

Although there are no specific tests to diagnose an eating disorder, a comprehensive evaluation, including medical history, physical exam, various diagnostic tests and a mental health assessment can help pinpoint a diagnosis.

Health care providers will explore a diagnosis of an eating disorder from many angles including:

  • Dietary history
  • Exercise history
  • Psychological history
  • Body image
  • Bingeing and purging frequency and elimination habits (use of diet pills, laxatives and supplements)
  • Family history of eating disorders
  • Menstrual status (if your periods are regular or irregular)
  • Medication history

Early diagnosis is important to achieve the best recovery outcome. If you or someone you know is experiencing signs and symptoms of an eating disorder, be sure to talk to a health care provider as soon as possible. RWJBarnabas Health is here to help.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

With proper treatment in a safe and supportive environment, people who have eating disorders can recover, return to healthier eating habits, and learn healthier ways to think about food and their bodies. It is also possible to reverse or reduce serious health problems caused by an eating disorder.

Treatment involves addressing the biological, psychological, and environmental factors related to the disease. At RWJBarnabas Health, we provide comprehensive and stigma-free treatment throughout New Jersey for anyone suffering from an eating disorder.

Treatment for eating disorders may include:

  • Inpatient treatment
  • Acute partial hospitalization
  • Intensive outpatient services
  • Individual, group and family therapy
  • Medication management and education
  • Nutritional counseling and education
  • Self-help and support groups
  • Occupational therapy
  • Recreational therapy
  • Specialized sessions on topics such as body image, spirituality and women’s issues

Typical treatment goals include:

  • Restoring adequate nutrition
  • Bringing weight to a healthy level
  • Reducing excessive exercise
  • Stopping binge-purge and binge-eating behaviors

RWJBarnabas Health has teams of interdisciplinary medical professionals throughout New Jersey with special expertise in eating disorders who work in partnership with other specialists as needed. Our experienced and caring experts approach patients with respect and dignity.

Support Services for People With Eating Disorders and Their Families

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, know that you are not alone and there is help available through RWJBarnabas Health.

The first step is to admit to having an eating disorder, which can take time to accept, even after loved ones recommend eating disorder treatment and have provided clear suggestions that your eating habits are not normal or healthy.

It is possible to recover from an eating disorder and resume living a normal, healthy life. We are here to help patients and families find the best way to recovery.

Since eating disorders may affect the entire family, family education is critical for parents and siblings to better understand the nature of eating disorders and the process of recovery. Research suggests that incorporating the family into treatment for eating disorders can improve treatment outcomes, particularly for adolescents.

Prevention and Screening for Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, but they often start in the teen and young adult years. Be mindful of certain risk factors that may increase the risk of developing an eating disorder such as:

  • Family history
  • Having a larger body as a child or teen
  • Mental health issues
  • Stress
  • Frequent dieting
  • A history of being teased or bullied for having a larger body
  • Poor body image and boredom

Although there are no definitive ways to prevent eating disorders, there are steps to take to develop healthy eating habits and lifestyle behaviors. Instilling healthy habits and self-esteem in children can help them lower the risk of developing an eating disorder. If you have concerns about your eating behaviors or those of your children, talk to your health care provider.

Here are some ways families can help:

  • Foster and reinforce a healthy body image in your children, no matter their size or shape. Help them build confidence in ways other than their appearance.
  • Have regular, enjoyable family meals.
  • Avoid talking about weight at home. Focus instead on having a healthy lifestyle.
  • Discourage dieting, especially when it involves unhealthy weight-control behaviors such as fasting, using weight-loss supplements, laxatives or self-induced vomiting.

If you have concerns about your eating behaviors or those of your children, talk to your health care provider about getting professional treatment before the situation worsens.

Did You Know?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • An eating disorder is an illness – not a trend or a choice.
  • Eating disorders are serious and can be fatal.
  • Eating disorders can affect anyone – they do not discriminate.
  • You cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder by looking at them.
  • You can recover from an eating disorder with treatment and time.

Contact Us

We have comprehensive, effective treatment for eating disorders throughout New Jersey. For more information, contact us today.

If you or a loved one are dealing with the effects of an eating disorder, call our Behavioral Health Access Center, open 24/7 for mental health consultations: 1-800-300-0628.