About Eating Disorders

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are the number one killer of all mental illnesses, yet they remain widely misunderstood.  Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and their variants, consist of severe disturbances in eating behavior and weight management. They often coexist with other mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The consequences of eating disorders are serious and can be life-threatening. They include a range of conditions that involve an obsession with food, weight, and appearance.


Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (AN) involves severe restriction of food intake, leading to a significantly low body weight(less than 85% of their ideal body weight based on age and height). A person suffering from AN has an intense fear of gaining weight, even when they have a dangerously low body weight.  This person may also have a disturbed body image, meaning that they truly feel and believe they are overweight even when they are clearly underweight.  Someone with AN often evaluates his or herself based on their body image and may not recognize the seriousness of their condition.  People with AN often limit or restrict other parts of their lives besides food, including relationships, social activities, and pleasure.

There are two types of AN, restricting type and binge-eating/purging type.  The person with restricting type of AN does not engage in binge/purge behaviors.  Their weight loss is from severe restriction.  The binge-eating/purging type of AN involves recurrent episodes of binge eating and/or purging behavior (self-induced vomiting, misuse of diuretics, laxatives, or enemas).

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa (BN) involves cycles of binging and purging.  Binging is the consumption of large amounts of food in a very short period of time. A person suffering from BN often doesn’t feel in control during the binging episode and most often will immediately begin purging after binging.  Purging involves dangerous compensatory behaviors (self-induced vomiting, misuse of diuretics, laxatives, or enemas) in order to prevent weight gain.  Similar to someone suffering from anorexia nervosa, someone with BN places a lot of emphasis on their body shape and weight for self-evaluation. Those suffering from BN seem to be at a higher risk for dangerous impulsive, self-destructive behaviors, such as self-harm, alcohol and/or drug abuse, and sexual promiscuity. Bulimia nervosa is different than the binge eating/purge type of anorexia nervosa in a few ways. Someone struggling with BN does not restrict, is not necessarily underweight, and often recognizes there is a problem.

Binge Eating Disorder

The essential features of binge eating disorder (BED)are recurrent episodes of consuming abnormally large amounts of food and a sense of lack of control. Someone struggling with BED may eat whether they are hungry or not and consume food well past being uncomfortably full. They often feel extremely distressed by their eating behavior and may experience feelings of disgust and guilt both during and after bingeing. BED is different from bulimia nervosa as it does not involve compensatory behaviors.

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder

Many people suffer from disordered eating.  When those symptoms cause significant distress but do not meet the full criteria of an eating disorder mentioned above, they may still be diagnosed with an eating disorder.  Their health and well-being may be in danger and should seek help from a professional.