Eating Disorders 101

What are eating disorders?

Serious mental illnesses characterized by insufficient or excessive food intake, affecting one’s mental and physical health, impacted by psychological, biological, and social factors. These include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED), and Binge Eating Disorder.

Who is affected by eating disorders?

An estimated 10 million females and 1 million males struggle with an eating disorder in the U.S. (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, & Hudson, 2011). (EDNOS is now recognized as OSFED, other specified feeding or eating disorder, per the DSM-5.)

The prevalence of eating disorders is similar among Non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians in the United States, with the exception that anorexia nervosa is more common among Non-Hispanic Whites (Hudson et al., 2007; Wade et al., 2011).

Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005).

35-57% of adolescent girls engage in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, or laxatives. Overweight girls are more likely than normal weight girls to engage in such extreme dieting (Boutelle, Neumark-Sztainer, Story, & Resnick, 2002; Neumark-Sztainer & Hannan, 2001; Wertheim et al., 2009).

81% of 10-year-old children are afraid of being fat (Mellin et al., 1991).

*For more information visit the National Eating Disorders Association’s website.


What is Anorexia Nervosa?

A disorder characterized by self-induced starvation, refusal to maintain a normal body weight, serious and potentially life threatening.

A review of nearly fifty years of research confirms that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder (Arcelus, Mitchell, Wales, & Nielsen, 2011).

Signs & Symptoms

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Intense fear of weight gain and being fat when not overweight
  • Distortion of body weight or body image
  • Preoccupation with food/calories/nutrition
  • Development of food rituals
  • Excuses to avoid mealtimes
  • Denial of hunger
  • Excessive and rigid exercising
  • Frequent weighing
  • Excessive dieting
  • Feeling bloated or nauseated after eating normal or less than normal amounts of food
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities
  • Feeling cold even though the temperature is normal
  • Interruption of menstrual cycle in females

Health Consequences & Complications

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Hair loss, dry hair and skin
  • Severe malnutrition
  • Loss of muscle and weakness
  • Increased susceptibility to infection
  • Severe dehydration (possible kidney failure)
  • Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, increase risk for heart failure
  • Fainting
  • Appearance of fine body and facial hair (Lanugo)
  • Osteoporosis (reduction of bone density)
  • Death

What is Bulimia Nervosa?

A disorder characterized by episodes of rapid consumption of excessive amounts of food (bingeing) that lead to guilt and efforts to get rid of food (purging).

Signs & Symptoms

  • Feeling out of control in situations involving food
  • Frequent weight fluctuations
  • Excessive concerns about weight
  • Reacting to emotional stress by overeating
  • Expressing guilt or shame about eating
  • Strict dieting followed by periods of binge eating
  • Compensatory behaviors include:
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Diuretic abuse
  • Fasting
  • Obsessive or compulsive exercise
  • Laxative abuse
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Depressive moods
  • Swelling of the cheeks or jaw area
  • Calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting
  • Staining of the teeth

Health Consequences/Complications

  • Electrolyte abnormalities/imbalances
  • Dehydration
  • Chronic Irregular bowel movements and constipation relative to laxative use
  • Dental Decay from stomach acids released during vomiting
  • Esophageal inflammation, tears and rupture
  • Swollen glands
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Pancreatitis
  • Death

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

A disorder characterized by repeated episodes of bingeing but without purging.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Episodes of eating large quantities of food during a short period of time
  • Feelings of shame or disgust related to behavior
  • Eating in the absence of hunger
  • Feeling out of control when eating
  • Feeling guilty about eating
  • Eating during stressful times to feel better
  • Eating in secret

Health Consequences/Complications

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Obesity
  • Increased risk of type 2 diabetes

What is Disordered Eating?

Unhealthy eating habits or body image that has not become a recognized eating disorder.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Yo-yo dieting
  • Eliminating entire food groups
  • Obsessive thoughts about exercise
  • Occasional binge eating or purging
  • Off-balanced approaches to nutrition

Health Consequences & Complications

  • Developing an eating disorder
  • Gallstones
  • Decreased metabolism