What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is a serious mental health condition in which a person has an unhealthy obsession about weight, food, and appearance. Eating disorders cause many health problems and are very dangerous. They include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED). There are many reasons why someone might have an eating disorder, such as stress, loss, trauma, or a big life change to name a few. Eating disorders affect people of all genders, shapes, sizes, ages, and ethnicities. Treatment for eating disorders typically require a combination of nutritional counselling, group or individual therapy, family therapy, medication, health monitoring, and treatment programs.

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Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which the individual has an intense fear of weight gain, limits food intake, and has a distorted image of their body. It is a mental illness that can affect people of any weight, age, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. A person suffering from anorexia nervosa may face very serious health problems from starving the body of needed nutrition.

  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • Sees self as “fat” or overweight
  • Low self-esteem
  • Limits food intake
  • Omits certain food groups
  • Distorted body image
  • Weight loss
  • Avoids situations involving food/eating
  • Punishes self for eating
  • Intense or rigid exercise regimen to burn off calories
  • Preoccupation with food, calories, nutrition
  • Developing rituals around eating

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder where the person has a pattern of limiting how much food they eat, consuming a large amount of food in a short time (a binge), and then coping with the binge in an unhealthy manner. People may make themselves vomit, use laxatives, exercise more than needed, and/or go through periods of starving themselves to “make up” for the binge. A person suffering from bulimia nervosa may face serious health problems from to the forced vomiting and bingeing, including stomach issues, a slow heart rate, and dental problems.

  • A lack of control when eating (feeling like you cannot control how much you eat or what you are eating)
  • Distorted body image
  • Weight fluctuation
  • Concern with weight/appearance
  • Swollen lymph nodes from vomiting
  • Punishing self through vomiting, exercise, or fasting
  • Secretive behaviors/rituals around eating
  • Feeling the need to “get rid of” food/calories after eating
  • Hoarding food and eating in secret
  • Feelings of low self-esteem
  • Using diuretics and/or laxatives regularly

Binge eating disorder

Binge eating disorder is characterized by a person regularly taking in large amounts of food in a short period of time to the point of being uncomfortable. People with binge eating disorder do not get rid of the extra calories through purging and often feel out of control while it is happening. This can result in feelings of guilt, shame, and distress for the person afterward. Binge eating disorder can lead to gastrointestinal problems and stomach cramps, as well as feelings of anxiety, distress, and isolation.

  • Weight fluctuations
  • Eating large amounts of food in a short period of time
  • Hoarding food and eating in secrecy
  • Eating food more quickly than normal
  • Experience a feeling of being out of control while eating
  • Consuming large amounts of food even when not hungry
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, disgust after eating
  • Creates time/rituals for binge session
  • Distorted body image
  • Low self-esteem

Other specified feeding or eating disorder

Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) is an eating disorder category for people that show signs of an eating disorder but don’t meet the  full criteria needed for a diagnosis. People with OSFED have symptoms that are similar to anorexia, bulimia, and/or binge eating disorder. OSFED is equally life-threatening and serious compared to the other disorders.

  • Anorexia nervosa type: person may show all the same symptoms of anorexia but their weight is within or above the normal range
  • Bulimia nervosa (low frequency/limited duration): person engages in bulimic behavior at a lower frequency for less than 3 months
  • Binge eating disorder (low frequency/limited duration): person engages in binge eating behavior infrequently, which is less than once a week or fewer than 3 months
  • Purging disorder: person engages in purging behavior for weight and/or appearance-related reasons