What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders include extreme thoughts, emotions, and behaviors surrounding weight, food, and body shape. There is a pronounced disruption in eating behaviors and weight management as well as intense anxiety about body weight and size. Eating disorders are often a dangerous response to stress. They are serious emotional and physical problems that can have life-threatening consequences for females and males. The most common eating disorders are described below:

Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by restricted eating, self-starvation and excessive weight loss. There is a refusal to maintain weight at or above a minimally normal weight for height, age, body type, and activity level. An intense fear of gaining weight and an unrealistic fear of becoming fat also exist. Body image is distorted, and the person may feel fat despite being underweight. An unhealthy concern with body weight and shape is present. In females, there is a loss of menstrual periods.

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by purging. Binge eating refers to eating large amounts of food in a short period of time. The person feels out of control during the binge. Purging may include: self-induced vomiting, abusing laxatives or diuretics, fasting, abusing diet pills, or excessively exercising. An extreme concern with body weight and shape is present.

Binge Eating Disorder is characterized by periods of uncontrolled, impulsive, or continuous eating beyond the point of feeling comfortably full. While there is no purging, there may be sporadic fasts or repetitive diets and often feelings of shame or self-hatred after a binge. People who overeat compulsively may struggle with anxiety, depression, and loneliness, which can contribute to their unhealthy episodes of binge eating.

Other Eating Disorders can include some combination of the signs and symptoms of anorexia, bulimia, and/or binge eating disorder. While these behaviors may not be clinically considered a full syndrome eating disorder, they can still be physically dangerous and emotionally draining. All eating disorders require professional help.

Source: Adapted from the National Eating Disorders Association (2012): www.NationalEatingDisorders.org.