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What is an Eating Disorder?

Not sure what eating disorders are and/or how to identify them? Here's a rough guide for you to use!

Eating Disorder

/ēdiNG diˈsôrdər

noun. any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits

Eating disorders usually stem from immense feelings of body dysmorphia and insecurities regarding physical appearance. People facing eating disorders tend to be immensely critical of their bodies, and tend to "feel fat" and view themselves as overweight. This negative body image can lead to immense physical damage through starvation and/or throwing up, as they strive to achieve the "perfect" weight and proportion.

These generally stem from an obsession with food, body weight or body shape and often result in serious health consequences. In some cases, eating disorders even result in death. According to PubMed, as much as 13% of youth may experience at least one eating disorder by the age of 20 .

Here are the types of eating disorders (credit- Healthline):

Anorexia Nervosa

People with anorexia generally view themselves as overweight, even if they’re dangerously underweight. They tend to constantly monitor their weight, avoid eating certain types of foods and severely restrict their calories.

Common symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

- Being considerably underweight compared to people of similar age and height

- Very restricted eating patterns

- An intense fear of gaining weight or persistent behaviors to avoid gaining weight, despite being underweight

- A relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight

- A heavy influence of body weight or perceived body shape on self-esteem

- A distorted body image, including denial of being seriously underweight.

Anorexia can be very damaging to the body. Over time, individuals living with it may experience the thinning of their bones, infertility, brittle hair and nails and the growth of a layer of fine hair all over their body.

In severe cases, anorexia can result in heart, brain or multi-organ failure and death.

Bulimia Nervosa

Just like anorexia, individuals with bulimia tend to view themselves as overweight and constantly monitor their weight. People with bulimia frequently eat unusually large amounts of food in a relatively short period.

Each binge-eating episode usually continues until the person becomes painfully full. Binges can happen with any type of food, but most commonly occur with foods the individual would normally avoid. Individuals with bulimia then attempt to purge to compensate for the calories consumed and relieve gut discomfort. Common purging behaviors include forced vomiting, fasting, laxatives, diuretics, enemas and excessive exercise.

Common symptoms of bulimia nervosa include:

- Recurrent episodes of binge eating, with a feeling of lack of control

- Recurrent episodes of inappropriate purging behaviors to prevent weight gain

- A self-esteem overly influenced by body shape and weight

- A fear of gaining weight, despite having a normal weight

Side effects of bulimia may include an inflamed and sore throat, swollen salivary glands, worn tooth enamel, tooth decay, acid reflux, irritation of the gut, severe dehydration and hormonal disturbances.

In severe cases, bulimia can also create an imbalance in body levels of electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and calcium. This can cause a stroke or heart attack. Moreover, the repetition of throwing up can cause the sphincter muscles to weaken. Untreated heartburn and acid reflux can lead to cancer.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder typically begins during adolescence and early adulthood, although it can also develop later on. Individuals with this disorder have similar symptoms to those with bulimia or the binge-eating sub-type of anorexia. For instance, they typically eat unusually large amounts of food in relatively short periods of time and usually feel a lack of control during binges.

However, contrary to the two previous disorders, people with binge eating disorder do not restrict calories or use purging behaviors such as vomiting or excessive exercise to compensate for their binges.

Common symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

- Eating large amounts of foods rapidly, in secret and until uncomfortably full, despite not feeling hungry

- Feeling a lack of control during episodes of binge eating

- Feelings of distress, such as shame, disgust or guilt, when thinking about the binge-eating behavior

- No use of purging behaviors, such as calorie restriction, vomiting, excessive exercise or laxative or diuretic use, to compensate for the binging

People with binge eating disorders are often overweight or obese. This may increase their risk of medical complications linked to excess weight, such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.


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