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.

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)

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.


  • 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 >>

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.

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

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

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

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)

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.

Visit and access the all new YouthWell Community Resources Directory. You will find youth behavioral health and wellness resources in this resource directory.

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

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 who 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 these issues. The MWC is focused on providing a safe and confidential space 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 and confidential place. Learn and practice self-management skills for better self-regulation. Drop-ins are welcome.

Wellness Connection Program
The Wellness Connection is a high school leadership program of the Mental Wellness Center that educates, empowers, and engages students. Students raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental health by promoting self-care, connection, kindness, education, prevention, and outreach amongst their peers.

In Fall of 2020, the Wellness Connection welcomed more than 50 local high school students to their leadership council from high schools throughout Santa Barbara County.

To learn more about the Wellness Connection Program at the Mental Wellness Center, visit

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 and Adolescents)
Mom Group - Meets Mondays at 10:00 AM (Spanish Group), Tuesdays at 12:00 PM (for moms) and Wednesdays at 6:30 PM (for all caregivers).

SPOT is a safe space for caregivers of teens and young adults to connect with other caregivers who might also be struggling in parenting a child with mental health challenges. We listen, support, and gain perspective in what is in our control and what is not. Facilitated discussion on emotional intelligence, coping strategies, and mindfulness is all incorporated during our time together.

For more information and to participate in SPOT, please contact Mental Wellness Center Family Advocate, Ramona Winner, at: 805-884-8440 ext. 3206, You must contact Ramona first to receive ZOOM link. If you are interested in joining the SPOT Spanish Group for Moms, please contact Isis Castaneda at: 805-448-0920.

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


Mental Health First Aid, Youth Mental Health First Aid, Teen 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. For more information visit

NAMI Santa Barbara County

Family-to-Family Educational Classes
This 8-week course (in English and Spanish) 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

4th Thursday Speaker Presentations
NAMI Santa Barbara County offers free monthly presentations with dynamic speakers on topics of local interest related to mental health. Visit to learn more and see a full listing of NAMI Santa Barbara County offerings including upcoming groups and classes.


The Mental Wellness Center (MWC) lending library provides books for independent learning available for loan to MWC clients and their families.

The collection covers a wide variety of topics related to mental health and wellness and 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.

The MWC Library Online Catalog is available for free online, click the button below to access. 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 your Support Group Facilitator to register as a library patron and obtain information on library procedures.