eating disorders


These disorders affect 8 million in the US and have the highest mortality rate of any mental health diagnosis.
- South Carolina Department of Mental Health


eating disorders

Know the facts.

definition • eating disorders

There are several types of eating disorders, the 3 most common are:

  1. Anorexia Nervosa
  2. Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
  3. Bulimia Nervosa

GENERAL DEFINITION: People with eating disorders try to manage feelings by focusing instead on food, weight and body image.

These mental health disorders profoundly disrupt a person's ability to regulate eating patterns, resulting in problems with health and happiness.

Media and peer pressure, which over-emphasize thinness may also play a part. Eating disorders often develop during teen and young adult years and affect 8 million in the US.

Eating disorders are not just about food, weight, appearance, or willpower; they are serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses. Causes are complex and include issues with control, genetics, and/or family dynamics.


  • Other types of eating disorders include... Orthorexia, Pica, Rumination, Laxative abuse, Compulsive Exercise, Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED/EDNOS), Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
symptoms • signs

Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by dangerously low body weight, an image of their body that does not match reality, and an extreme fear of losing control and looking fat. People with anorexia nervosa do not eat enough food to maintain a healthy, functioning body and this results in damage to organs, muscles, and bones. People with anorexia generally restrict the number of calories and the types of food they eat.

Symptoms of anorexia nervosa:
A person with anorexia nervosa might...

  • have an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted self-image
  • exercise excessively.
  • have a fear of eating in public.
  • withdraw socially.
  • grow soft, furry hair on their body (lanugo).
  • become dehydrated and develop dry yellowish skin.
  • have low, unhealthy body weight.
  • sometimes cover up with layers of clothing.

Binge-eating Disorder is characterized by frequent episodes of eating large amounts of food - often in secret - and being unable to stop. After a binge (eating out of control), people often experience shame, distress or guilt, which can trigger a new round of binge eating. People who have binge eating disorder may be of average weight, or they may be overweight.

Symptoms of Binge-eating Disorder:
A person with binge-eating disorder might...

  • eat out of control.
  • eat to the point of discomfort or pain.
  • eat much more food during a binge episode than during a normal meal or snack.
  • frequently eat alone and in secret.
  • feel depressed, disgusted, guilty or upset over the amount of food eaten.
  • develop symptoms associated with clinical obesity which include problems with: blood sugar (diabetes), cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, gallbladder and heart disease.

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by a cycle of severe overeating followed by purging (self-induced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives and/or over-exercising).

Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa Disorder:
A person with bulimia nervosa might...

  • eat until the point of discomfort or pain, often with high-fat or sweet foods prior to purging.
  • purge (self-induced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives and/or over-exercising).
  • have a distorted, excessively negative body image.
  • damage their teeth and gums (from vomiting).
  • irritate their throat, esophagus and stomach (from vomiting).
  • suffer severe dehydration.
  • damage their internal organs, especially heart and kidneys.

Often, treatment involves a team approach that includes mental health professionals, nutritionists, and doctors. It also may require hospitalization. 

Therapy - individual and/or family - and support groups can be especially effective.

While it may take months or years of care, sometimes involving hospitalization, people who suffer from eating disorders can recover and lead healthy lives.

providing support


  • Talk openly and honestly about your concerns with the person who is struggling with eating or body image problems
  • Remind the person that there is no shame in having an eating disorder. (This can help remove potential stigma.)
  • Avoid overly simple solutions and advice. Being told “You need to eat more” or “You need to eat less” isn’t helpful. It can be frustrating for the person to hear this. It can also cause them to shut down, be defensive and feel misunderstood.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help.


  • Educate yourself about the disorder.
  • Listen to your friend when they want to talk.
  • Keep checking in with your friend.
  • Use 1st person language. Say,
    “My friend has an eating disorder.” not “My friend is not crazy." OR "My friend is fat or too thin.”
  • Reassure your friend of your support and understanding.


  • “It’s not your fault.”
  • “I’m listening.”
  • “I am here for you.”
  • “It’s the illness that causes these thoughts and feelings.”
  • “This must be really difficult for you.”


  • “It’s all in your head.”
  • “What’s wrong with you?”
  • “Get over yourself, you have no reason to feel that way.”
  • “Shouldn’t you be better by now?”


  • ...tell a friend to “Snap out of it!”
  • ...diagnose.
  • ...gossip.
  • ...take your friend’s withdrawal personally.

Find additional information on our Mental Health Disorders page and other suggestions on our Understanding Stigma page >>

test your knowledge

Can you answer these questions?

  1. What is an eating disorder?
  2. Define each of the 3 main types of eating disorders.
  3. What are the symptoms of each of the three types of eating disorders?
  4. What types of treatment are available for people experiencing an eating disorder?
  5. What can you do to support someone with an eating disorder?
  6. How do you think stigma might affect a person with an eating disorder?

*Hint: Read the EATING DISORDERS facts at the top of this page to find the answers for 1-5. And view our Understanding Stigma page for question #6.


eating disorders

Questions you're too afraid to ask someone with an eating disorder
Struggling With An Eating Disorder
Recovering From An Eating Disorder
Binge Eating • Eating Disorders • One Word


Know the facts.

myth #1: Eating disorders are primarily about food

Fact: Eating disorders are not just about food.

People with eating disorders try to manage emotions by focusing too much on food, weight and body image.

What they eat or don't eat is something that they believe they can control when other aspects of their lives may seem out of control.  

"Just eat!" or "Just stop eating!" might be phrases that we want to say to someone with an eating disorder. But these comments are inappropriate because an eating disorder is not about the amount of food one eats or does not eat, it really is about trying to hide something more serious and emotionally troubling.

- Adapted from the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness

myth #2: Eating disorders only affect females

Fact: Eating disorders affect all groups of people regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnic, cultural, geographic, and socioeconomic status.

Because of this myth, people who do not fit the stereotype may not get the help they need.

- Adapted from University of Rochester Medical Center

myth #3: If you are at a healthy weight you cannot have an eating disorder

Fact: Eating disorders are not just about weight.

They are about a person's sense of self-worth and include obsessive thoughts about food and eating.

People with eating disorders who are at a healthy weight may actually suffer more because they don't receive recognition of their illness from others.

-Adapted from National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders

myth #4: Eating disorders are not serious; they are a lifestyle choice or about vanity

Fact: Eating disorders are serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses.

They are not a lifestyle choice or a diet gone too far.

People with eating disorders experience changes in their behavior around eating. These changes can be life-threatening.

The mortality rate for people with eating disorders is the highest of all psychiatric illnesses, and over 12 times higher than that for people without eating disorders.

-Adapted from The National Eating Disorders Collaboration (Australia)

Myth #5: Binge eating disorder is rare

Fact: Binge eating disorder (BED) affects far more people than other eating disorders.

It is believed to be the most common eating disorder in the U.S. More than 6 million Americans suffer with binge eating disorder.

- Adapted from WebMd



It's OK to ask for help.
Talk to a trusted adult.

resources, crisis phone & text hotlines

Visit to find local Santa Barbara County mental health resources.

If you or someone you know has harmed themselves or is in immediate risk of harm CALL 911 immediately.

SAFTY ~ Safe Alternatives for Treating Youth 

  • 888-334-2777 - SAFTY is a mobile crisis response service available daily 8am-8pm, providing crisis intervention, phone, and in-home support, and linkage to mental health services. Available to all SB County youth, age 0-20, regardless of insurance or ability to pay. 

Crisis Text Line

  • Text SIGNS to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free crisis counseling.
    Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, providing access to free, 24/7 support and information via text. A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives the text and responds quickly.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

  • 1-800-273-TALK (8255)  or  ONLINE LIVE CHAT
    24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call is routed to the nearest crisis center in the national network of 150+ crisis center


youth wellness connection clubs

YWC Clubs are campus-based and open to all 9th-12th grade students. Club ambassadors are upstanders that raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental health by promoting self-care and kindness through connection, prevention, education & outreach activities!


  • Meetings are weekly at lunch...
    [MON] DPHS & SMHS and [WED] CHS & SBHS.
  • Club meetings are an opportunity to make connections, participate in campus leadership, earn volunteer hours, and make a difference in changing your campus culture.
  • YWC Clubs conduct monthly wellness campaigns and events on campus in collaboration with other clubs and campus resources. The YOU MATTER campaigns are all about celebrating every person's value and worth!  This includes our students, our teachers, and families in our community. The goal of the YWC is to help students remember that their life matters, that we care about them and that it is OK to ask for help. There are support resources available on campus and in our community.

If students are interested in receiving a reminder when meetings are being held on their campus, they can go to YWC website to join OR...

  • Get club reminders by TEXTING PHONE #: 81010
    and then text the code for your school...

    • CHS: @carpYWC
      or click link CHS
    • DPHS: @dpYWC
      or click link DPHS
    • SBHS: @sbYWC
      or click link SBHS
    • SMHS: @smYWC
      or click link SMHS
    • and then press SEND



mental wellness center resources

Learning about mental health is the first step to wellness. The Mental Wellness Center (MWC) can help families find medical and professional care, as well as teach important skills on how to manage your mental health. Many families in our community have teenagers that are struggling with depression, anxiety, ADHD and other mental health issues. It can be overwhelming as a parent to find support for your teenager and difficult to talk about. The MWC is focused on providing a safe and confidentialspace for families to connect with others, access community resources and get the support your family needs.


Keeping Connected Group
Come discuss life, work on communication and social skills and enjoy time with your peers! This weekly group brings together teens, 14-18, to learn emotion management in a fun, safe place. Learn and practice self-management skills for better self-regulation. Drop-ins are welcome.

YOUTH Wellness Connection • COUNCIL & Clubs
The YWC Council is a high school leadership program that educates, empowers and engages students. We bring students together from multiple schools that are interested in serving in a leadership role in the YWC Clubs on their campuses. They design monthly wellness campaigns for their campuses to raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental health by promoting self-care, connection, and kindness.

Mental Health Matters • 6th & 9th GRADE CLASSES
MHM teaches basic facts about mental health to sixth and ninth grade students in the classroom. Instructors talk about stigma and how it affects our perceptions of mental illness and taking care of ourselves. Students learn the facts, including symptoms and warning signs, of specific mental health disorders.


SPOT ~ Support for Parents of Teens
A peer support group for parents and caregivers of teens, 12-26, struggling with mental health or substance abuse from crisis to aftercare. Parents can connect with others, gain tools, find resources, and learn to manage their children’s needs without sacrificing their own. There are weekly groups to accommodate busy schedules.

  • Drop-ins are welcome.
  • Tuesdays, 12:00-1:30pm for moms
  • Evening group for parents and caregivers

Family Advocate
The MWC Family Advocate can assist families and provide assistance in understanding and navigating the local public and private mental health systems and on how to access various clinical and support services available in our community and we offer one-on-one support in times of crisis. 805.884.8440 x3206


Mental Health First Aid
This 8-hour course is offered monthly at the MWC and teaches participants how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. It also teaches an action plan to use in a psychiatric emergency. This course can be customized and provided on-site in schools and organizations.

4th Thursday Speaker Presentations
MWC offers with the Southern SB County NAMI Chapter presentations with dynamic speakers on topics of local interest related to mental health. View the MWC calendar on our website for upcoming speakers and panels.

NAMI • Family-to-Family Educational Classes
This 12-week course helps families better understand how their family member experiences their illness, how to best support the recovery process and how to better cope with the impact on the entire family. Contact the MWC Family Advocate to inquire or reserve a place in the next series. 805.884.8440 x3206

mental wellness center Library

The MWC Library Online Catalog is freely available on the internet. Simply input “MWC Library” as the library name; no password is required.

You may check out the library collection during MWC open hours or formal meeting periods. Contact the MWC Receptionist or your Support Group Facilitator to register as a Library patron and obtain information on Library procedures.

For further information, please contact MWC Librarian:

One of the very best ways to deal with issues, experiences, and uncertainties surrounding mental health disorders is to become informed and increase your knowledge. The Library at the Mental Wellness Center provides books for independent learning available for loan to MWC clients and client families.

The collection covers a wide variety of topics related to mental health and wellness. It contains books on a range of mental health disorders including ADD/ADHD, anxiety disorders, bipolar mood disorder, depression, eating disorders, and schizophrenia. Materials on client and family coping and survival strategies, drug abuse in dual diagnosis, and suicide are also available. You will also find a limited selection of materials on psychopharmacology, memoirs, some relevant fiction, and a small collection of books written for children and teens.