What is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is a mental health diagnosis that is characterized by harmful beliefs and behaviors relating to body shape, weight, and the intake of food. An eating disorder is very serious as it impacts the physical and the emotional self in a harmful way.

Eating disorders impact people regardless of race, age, ethnicity, gender, shape, or size.

What Causes an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder can arise from a combination of factors including genetics, environment, psychological characteristics, and sociocultural dynamics. While the exact causes of eating disorders are not fully understood, some common factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder include:

Family History

Having a family history of eating disorders can increase the likelihood of developing an eating disorder. However, it is important to state that parents are not to blame for your child’s eating disorder.

Life Experiences

How each person interprets their own life experiences is incredibly powerful as it can determine their risk for developing an eating disorder. Individuals who have experienced trauma, strict achievement or performance expectations (in school, sports, relationships, etc.), life and developmental changes, or being expected to look a certain way are more likely to develop an eating disorder. The largest risk factor for the development of an eating disorder is dieting behaviors.

Psychological Characteristics

Every person is born with specific temperaments and personality traits. Some personality traits are more commonly associated with individuals that struggle with eating disorders. Examples include perfectionism, people pleasing, high emotional sensitivity, conflict avoidance, and low distress tolerance.

Sociocultural Dynamics

The societal and cultural influences can impact an individual’s risk of developing an eating disorder. We live in a society that is incredibly influenced by diet culture which stipulates that thin is ideal and promotes an unrealistic expectation of beauty. These messages can come from social media, television, internet, school, advertisements, and so much more! Teens are more at risk of succumbing to the extreme expectations of diet culture compared due to their stage of cognitive development as teens have fewer coping skills to process these messages in a neutral way.

Anorexia Nervosa

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight and an unhealthy disturbance in body image. Those who struggle with Anorexia engage in restrictive eating behaviors or various other extreme methods to rid their bodies of caloric intake to achieve or maintain an extremely low body weight due to the constant desire to pursue the eating disorder’s version of the ideal body. Anorexia is the most referenced eating disorder in society but is often misunderstood as simple dietary choices when this disorder is extremely complex and ties into various psychological factors, societal expectations surrounding appearance, and genetic factors.

Common Signs and Symptoms:

  • Significant weight loss
  • Rigid dietary restrictions
  • Constantly dieting
  • Avoiding certain food types due to fear of weight gain
  • Calorie counting
  • Excessive exercise
  • Extreme preoccupation with body size and weight
  • Distorted body image
  • Difficulty or refusal to maintain a healthy weight
  • Social isolation or withdrawal
  • Medical concerns including fatigue, dizziness, hormonal imbalances, loss of menstrual cycle (if applicable), dehydration, bone density loss, hair thinning, cardiovascular issues, or poor immune system

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

What is Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder?

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is often misunderstood as someone who is an “extremely picky eater”. ARFID is characterized by the avoidance or restriction of certain foods or entire food groups within one’s diet. Those that struggle with ARFID often report a narrowing of their safe foods/preferred foods overtime which can lead to nutritional deficiencies and impaired functioning if left untreated. Unlike other eating disorders, ARFID is not driven by body image issues but is associated with sensory sensitivity or avoidance (e.g., temperatures, smells, tastes, or textures), lack of interest in food, of fear of aversive consequences (e.g., choking, vomiting, nausea, or allergies).

Common Signs and Symptoms:

  • Lack of interest in food
  • Refusal to try new foods
  • Experiences emotional distress when around unfamiliar foods
  • Small list of acceptable foods (being a “picky eater)
  • Elimination of entire food groups
  • Eating foods with similar sensory characteristics such as texture or color
  • Fear of eating due to the potential for allergic reactions, choking, nausea, or vomiting
  • Prefers food to be prepared in a specific way
  • Poor weight gain and growth
  • Medical concerns including nutrient deficiencies, weight loss, failure to gain weight, gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, hair thinning, trouble concentrating, or loss of bone density

Binge Eating Disorder

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge Eating Disorder is an eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large amounts of food in a short period of time which is accompanied by feeling out of control. Binge eating episodes are typically motivated by emotional distress and the need to use food to cope with their emotions. Unlike other eating disorders, those with Binge Eating Disorder do not utilize compensatory behaviors like excessive exercise or purging (self-induced vomiting or misuse of laxatives). Those who struggle with Binge Eating Disorder are less likely to receive treatment despite Binge Eating Disorder being three times more common than Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.

Common Signs and Symptoms:

  • Consuming an unusually large amount of food in a short period of time
  • Feeling out of control during these episodes
  • Eating past the point of fullness, often to discomfort of physical pain
  • Eating quickly without physical hunger
  • Intense feelings of guilt, disgust, shame, and distress after an episode
  • Secretive eating behaviors (e.g., hiding evidence of eating food, eating in the car, eating alone, eating late at night when others are asleep)
  • Negative self-perception in connection to body, weight, or eating habits
  • Constant thoughts about food
  • Medical concerns including obesity or cardiovascular issues (those with Binge Eating Disorder living in larger bodies often face weight stigma when attempting to access healthcare services and are told to diet/exercise rather than being diagnosed and treated for their eating disorder)

Bulimia Nervosa

What is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating large amounts of food in a short period of time (binge eating) which is followed by compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, or excessive exercise. Those struggling with Bulimia experience feelings of guilt, shame, and out of control during binge episodes. As Bulimia progresses, the cycle of binging and purging becomes more difficult to break despite extreme emotional distress or interference with daily activities. Bulimia is motivated by an unhealthy preoccupation with body size and weight.

Common Signs and Symptoms:

  • Consuming an unusually large amount of food in a short period of time
  • Feeling out of control and shame regarding how much food is consumed
  • Secretive behaviors related to food
  • Engaging in compensatory behaviors like self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, fasting/limiting caloric intake, or misuse of laxative
  • Frequent trips to the restroom after eating meals (to engage in a compensatory behavior in private)
  • Self-esteem and self-worth heavily connected to body size and weight
  • Distorted self-image
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Medical concerns including dental concerns, electrolyte imbalances, cardiovascular issues, dehydration, gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, muscle weakness, swollen salivary glands, hoarse voice, loss of menstrual cycle (if applicable), or acid reflux

Orthorexia Nervosa

What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

Orthorexia Nervosa is characterized by an unsafe preoccupation with eating “healthy”, “unrefined”, “pure”, or “clean” foods to the point in which it interferes with the ability to function. Those struggling with orthorexia may have rigid rules or rituals around food including when to eat or what ingredients are allowed to enter their body based on how “healthy” they are. While Orthorexia is not currently included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it is recognized by eating disorder professionals as an increasingly concerning disorder.  Those struggling with orthorexia are typically praised by those around them or on social media for their self-control and dedication to their “lifestyle” due to how deeply diet culture is embedded into our society. However, those that suffer from orthorexia often express feeling trapped by the self-imposed rules which can result in withdrawing from relationships and normal social experiences.

Common Signs and Symptoms:

  • Self-imposed rigid dietary restrictions (e.g., veganism, gluten-free, vegetarianism, intermittent fasting, or Whole30)
  • Refusal to eat foods that are not designated to be “healthy” or “pure.”
  • Constantly checking ingredient lists, nutrition labels, or counting calories
  • Concerns with how food impacts health or creates medical concerns.
  • Increased supplement usage
  • Concerns about food preparation so that it is within the individuals’ control.
  • Self-esteem is connected to adherence to food rituals and rules.
  • Perfectionism
  • Inflexibility
  • Fear of processed foods
  • Social withdrawal
  • Choosing to not attend social gatherings due to fear of pressure or expectation to eat “unhealthy” foods.
  • Medical concerns include malnutrition, compromised immune system, loss of menstrual cycle, cardiovascular issues, loss of bone density, or difficulty concentrating.

Treatment for Eating Disorders at CalmOCD

At CalmOCD we treat eating disorders with a combination of therapeutic approaches to fit individual’s specific and unique needs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is focused on the connection between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. CBT works to identify thoughts that are unhelpful or unrealistic and reframe them with healthy and realistic ones. Through this process, the individual can break free of behaviors that are no longer serving them. CBT helps individuals with eating disorders be able to utilize tools to challenge their distorted body image, gain insight into their dysfunctional thoughts regarding food and weight and gain healthy coping skills that improve self-esteem in place of unhealthy disordered eating behaviors. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is another treatment modality that is used to treat eating disorders within CalmOCD. ERP helps individuals struggling with eating disorders confront the foods, fears, and worries that are holding them back in their daily life. Exposure therapy assists the patient in reducing negative coping skills and self-talk before, during, and after the exposure to build understanding and confidence of how to handle triggers when they arise.

Typically, the individual struggling with an eating disorder is engaging in behaviors that are not congruent to who they are as a person as they are listening to the eating disorder. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is designed to help individuals refocus on their values and accept their experiences, rather than trying to avoid or control their emotions. ACT helps individuals with eating disorders learn skills to cope with challenging emotions, take positive actions towards their goals, and build resilience through acceptance. Mindfulness-Based Therapy can assist individuals with an eating disorder in learning how to bring awareness to their current experiences rather than focusing on the past or the future. This allows the individuals to learn how to listen to their body to regain their hunger/fullness cues, reduce rumination on unhelpful thoughts, and improve emotional regulation.

Individuals with eating disorders frequently express experiencing uncomfortable and at times overwhelming thoughts and emotions. This discomfort may lead the individual to attempt to avoid, escape, or numb the emotions which often leads to an increase in disordered eating patterns. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a treatment modality that is utilized by CalmOCD clinicians to provide concrete skills for managing intense emotions and navigate through challenging life situations. DBT has four skill sets including: Distress Tolerance, Emotional Regulation, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and Mindfulness.

Each set of skills works to address how the eating disorder has been functioning in the individual’s life and provides alternative skills to meet the need but in a way that is not disordered. Distress Tolerance skills provide tools to deal with overwhelming emotions and return to “baseline”. Emotional Regulation skills are focused on building a healthier relationship with emotions by learning about their purpose and how to manage them without turning to the eating disorder to cope. Interpersonal Effectiveness provides tools to support healthy communication with people in life which allows the individual to feel empowered to express their needs and be in connection with others. Mindfulness skills are focused on improving the individual’s ability to stay focused in the moment rather than listening to the eating disorder voice.

Intensive Track

Once an eating disorder is creating issues in a person’s ability to engage normally in their day-to-day life, an intensive program is a way to treat symptoms more aggressively and find tools to recovery much sooner than with single outpatient sessions drawn out over the course of several months.

The Intensive Track program at CalmOCD gives patient’s flexibility in their treatment and provides quality treatment and support from one of our ED specialists one-on-one. Each Intensive Track program is customized for the specific eating disorder to be addressed which is something that many patients seek after being in higher levels of care or programs that did not address their needs specifically, such as exposure work for those with ARFID or mindful eating practices for those with BED. The program will provide patients and their families with specific psychoeducation based on their eating disorder and co-occurring disorders and offer family support and community/home visits when needed.


All sessions in the intensive program are tailored based on the patient’s specific eating disorder and other co-occurring disorders.

The intensive track at CalmOCD utilizes the same treatment modalities as our single-session program; cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure response prevention, acceptance and commitment therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and mindfulness-based therapy; the main difference is the frequency and duration of the appointments. The intensive program is designed to offer support to those who are struggling with an eating disorder that is impacting daily life functioning and could benefit from daily therapeutic support.
All sessions in the intensive program are tailored based on the individual. Therefore, all sessions are one-on-one (and/or with family members) and not in group sessions. Once eating disorder symptoms have become severe, it really takes individualized care to help support the person with an eating disorder. It is required that those who are in the intensive program meet weekly with a dietitian and potentially meet with a medical provider based on the recommendation of the therapist to ensure that the patient is stable in an outpatient setting.


Family work is an integral piece of the intensive program at CalmOCD.

Family work is an integral piece of the intensive program at CalmOCD. The therapist will provide the family with extensive eating disorder education throughout the program. The family will learn how to support their loved one without accommodating their eating disorder or enabling the eating disorder. The family member will learn to embrace their own anxiety they will likely feel when they learn alternative ways of functioning in the home that supports the recovery process.


The back-to-back sessions each day are offered as two 45-minute sessions (for a total of 90- minutes each day), two 60-minute sessions for a total of (120minutes per day) or three 60-minute sessions for a total of (180) minutes per day).

Those needing more support through the intensive can also schedule an additional session later in the day as a check-in.
If the patient is coming into treatment with an eating disorder that impacts their functioning, it can take many sessions to reduce their symptoms to a point in which they can return to their life. It is imperative to note that if the patient is malnourished, it will take their brain longer to absorb the information due to the limited cognitive ability created by lack of nourishment. The number of sessions and the length of treatment depends on such factors as; the severity of symptoms, their willingness to give up eating disorder behaviors, consistency in doing the hard work, and the family’s ability to stop enabling or dismissing their loved one's symptoms.

Steps In Treatment

Step One

After completing the complimentary 15-minute phone consultation, CalmOCD  will schedule a 60-minute psychiatric diagnostic evaluation with one of our eating disorder specialists or add you to our waitlist depending on our current availability.

Step TWO

During this evaluation, the therapist will collect background information and learn more about the patient's current functioning. The therapist will make treatment recommendations, whether they are appropriate for single sessions (45-minute or 60-minute) or if our intensive track program may be a better fit.


The therapists at CalmOCD will evaluate presenting symptoms and develop an individualized treatment plan based on the needs of the individual. No two people are alike even if they are experiencing the same eating disorder, which is why our approach is unique.


If single sessions are appropriate the therapist will recommend the frequency at which these sessions are conducted. This recommendation is based on patient severity, clinical assessments, and psychological evaluation. At the start of treatment, patients respond better when they can have therapeutic support consistently and sessions close together.


Our clinicians will help the patient build a strong foundation of skills through psychoeducation on their specific diagnosis. Each patient and their family will receive a CalmOCD educational folder filled with resources they will refer to throughout treatment. The psychoeducation portion of treatment may take 2-4 sessions.

Step SIX

Next, the therapist and patient will work together to identify the function of the eating disorder and how it has been serving them in life, recognizing the negative and positive.


Behavioral therapy begins. A collaborative approach occurs where the therapist and patient work alongside one another utilizing various treatment modalities including ACT, DBT, CBT, and ERP.


The length of treatment depends on such factors as: the severity of symptoms, the patient's willingness to give up behaviors, consistency in doing the hard work, and the family's ability to stop accommodating their loved one’s symptoms.

Ready to Start Your Healing Journey?

If interested, please follow the steps below! Due to the high volume of inquiries please allow 48 hours for a response.


Submit an online inquiry


You will receive a response from CalmOCD within 48 hours and a 15 minute complimentary consultation will be scheduled

Intake Session

If CalmOCD seems to be a good fit based on your individual needs, an intake session will be scheduled.