Eating disorders are serious mental health disorders. They involve severe problems with your thoughts about food and your eating behaviors. You may eat much less or much more than you need.
Eating disorders are medical conditions; they are not a lifestyle choice. They affect your body’s ability to get proper nutrition. This can lead to health issues, such as heart and kidney problems, or sometimes even death. But there are treatments that can help.
What are the types of eating disorders?
Common types of eating disorders include:
- Binge eating, which is out-of-control eating. People with binge-eating disorder keep eating even after they are full. They often eat until they feel very uncomfortable. Afterward, they usually have feelings of guilt, shame, and distress. Eating too much too often can lead to weight gain and obesity.
- Bulimia nervosa. People with bulimia nervosa also have periods of binge eating. But afterwards, they purge, by making themselves throw up or using laxatives. They may also exercise excessively or fast. People with bulimia nervosa may be slightly underweight, normal weight, or overweight.
- Anorexia nervosa. People with anorexia nervosa avoid food, severely restrict food, or eat very small quantities of only certain foods. They may see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight. Anorexia nervosa is the least common of the three eating disorders, but it is often the most serious. It has the highest death rate of any mental disorder.
The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. Researchers believe that eating disorders are caused by a complex interaction of factors. These include genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors. Eating disorders frequently appear during the teen years or young adulthood. But people can also develop them during childhood or later in life.
What are the symptoms of eating disorders?
The symptoms of eating disorders vary, depending on the disorder:
The symptoms of binge-eating include
- Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time, such as a 2-hour period
- Eating even when you’re full or not hungry
- Eating fast during binge episodes
- Eating until you’re uncomfortably full
- Eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment
- Feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about your eating
- Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss
The symptoms of bulimia nervosa include the same symptoms as binge-eating, plus trying to get rid of the food or weight after binging by
- Purging, making yourself throw up or using laxatives or enemas to speed up the movement of food through your body
- Doing intensive and excessive exercise
The symptoms of anorexia nervosa include
- Eating very little, to the point of starving yourself
- Intensive and excessive exercise
- Extreme thinness
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Distorted body image – seeing yourself as overweight even when you are severely underweight
Anorexia nervosa can be fatal. Some people with this disorder die of complications from starvation, and others die of suicide.
Some people with eating disorders may also have other mental disorders (such as depression or anxiety) or problems with substance use.