Eating Disorders

Eating disorders involve thinking negatively about one’s own body weight, food and eating habits that upset normal body functions and daily life activities. Eating disorders are more than “feeling fat” occasionally and can lead to serious mental and physical problems.

The way we choose to eat is affected by many things beyond appetite—things like the types of food available, family life, peer pressure and even cultural practices.

Eating disorders are not due to a weak will or behavior.  Rather, they are real, treatable medical illnesses that involve bad eating habits that seriously affect the quality of life of those who experience them.


Health Problems

A wide range of physical health problems can be caused by eating disorders. These include serious heart conditions and kidney failure, which may lead to death. In addition, individuals who have an eating disorder also often struggle with other psychiatric disorders such as depression, substance abuse and anxiety disorders.

Anorexia Nervosa

People with anorexia often seem thin and underweight to others around them. However, they perceive themselves as overweight. When they look at someone at a healthy body weight, they may like the way the other person looks, even though that person weighs more than they do. The anorexia sufferer will still feel as though they need to reduce their own weight.

Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Resistance to keeping body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even when underweight
  • Denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight
  • Women who have reached puberty may have infrequent or absent menstrual periods
  • Strict rituals with food, usually involving limiting the amount of food eaten daily to far below needed levels
  • Excessive exercise, more than needed to maintain good health

Bulimia Nervosa

People with bulimia are often within the normal weight range for their age and height. However, like people with anorexia, they may desire to lose weight, fear gaining weight and feel intensely dissatisfied with their bodies. People with bulimia struggle with a cycle of binging and purging. Basically, they compulsively eat large amounts of food and then vomit soon after, take laxatives or over-exercise to get rid of it. People with bulimia often binge and purge in secret, feeling disgusted and ashamed when they binge, yet relieved once they purge.

Symptoms of bulimia nervosa include:

  • Episodes of binge eating: eating an excessive amount of food within a short period of time and feeling a lack of control over the eating.
  • Purging: self-induced vomiting or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas or other medications; fasting; or excessive exercise
  • These and other behaviors averagely occur at least twice a week for 3 months

Binge Eating Disorder

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder are similar to those of bulimia. However the binge eater may not feel the need to purge, and binge eaters may be overweight. Like other disorders, binge eating can be an emotional response or a response to physiological issues. Many binge eaters use food to compensate for feelings of dissatisfaction in other areas of their lives.


Eating disorders can be treated and a healthy weight restored. Because eating disorders are serious they require a long-term treatment plan, involving medical care and monitoring, psychosocial therapy, nutritional counseling and, sometimes, medication. The sooner these disorders are diagnosed and treated, the better the outcomes are likely to be.