Eating disorders are serious disturbances in eating behavior, such as extreme and unhealthy reduction of food intake or severe overeating. They also occur with feelings of distress or excessive concern about body shape or weight. The main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.
Eating disorders often develop during adolescence or early adulthood, but may also start during childhood or later in adulthood. Females are much more likely than males to develop an eating disorder.
Eating disorders frequently occur with other psychiatric conditions, such as depression, substance abuse, and anxiety disorders. In addition, people with eating disorders can experience a range of physical health complications. While some of these are minor, others can cause serious heart conditions, kidney failure, osteoporosis, metabolic abnormalities, and even death.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which you have a fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even if underweight. Because of this you become obsessed with dieting and exercise, which leads to excessive weight loss. You are generally considered anorexic when you do not maintain your body weight at or above 85% of your expected weight.
If you have bulimia nervosa, you also feel overly concerned with your weight and body image. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which you compulsively eat large amounts of food. This is called binge-eating. Then, you use unhealthy means, such as vomiting or laxatives to rid your body of the food, or water pills to reduce your weight. You may also diet or engage in extreme amounts of exercise to use up calories taken in through binge-eating.
If you have binge eating disorder, you eat excessive amounts of food within a short period of time, generally 2 hours. Episodes of binge eating are associated with other factors like feeling shame or disgust.
During an episode, you feel a lack of control over your eating. Since there is no purging involved, you may be overweight for your age and height.
About eating disorders. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders website. Available at: http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders. Accessed May 18, 2016.
American Psychiatric Association. Practice guideline for the treatment of patients with eating disorders. National Guideline Clearinghouse website. Available at: http://www.guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=9318. Updated 2011. Accessed May 18, 2016.
Anorexia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 19, 2015. Accessed May 18, 2016.
Bulimia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 19, 2015. Accessed May 18, 2016.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
Eating disorders: About more than food. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/index.shtml. Updated 2014. Accessed May 18, 2016.
Eating disorders in over 8s: management. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence website. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg9/chapter/1-Guidance. Updated January 2004. Accessed May 18, 2016.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.