Eating Disorders


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What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is a disorder in which some eating disturbance is present. These include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and eating disorder not otherwise specified. More females than males struggle with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

What is Anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is a disorder in which a person will not sustain an average weight. A person with anorexia weighs less than 85% of what is considered average. A person with anorexia typically is terrified of gaining weight, even though he/she is underweight. He/she may see himself/herself as overweight, or puts too much importance on weight. A woman with anorexia experiences a lost of her menstrual cycle due to the low body weight.

Many people with anorexia nervosa restrict food intake; that is, they eat very few calories during the day, or may stop eating all together. Other individuals with anorexia may binge and purge; they may eat more than average in one sitting and then attempt to expel the food via vomiting, use of laxatives, diuretics, or other means.

Individuals with anorexia nervosa face many physical problems, in addition to mental health problems. Starvation is one main medical concern. In addition, an individual with this condition may feel lethargic and decreased energy.

What is Bulimia nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by binging and use of compensatory behaviors. When binging, an individual eats more food in a given time than would be expected of most people in the same circumstance. During this time, a person believes he/she has no control over how much he/she is eating. When engaged in compensatory behaviors, a person with bulimia attempts to prevent weight gain, such as vomiting, excessive exercising, or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas. A person with bulimia nervosa bases his/her self concept on his/her weight.

Many medical complications occur when an individual is bulimic. If the individual vomits to lose weight, he/she may lose enamel on his/her teeth due to the frequent vomiting. In addition, frequent vomiting may lead to stomach or esophageal complications.

Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (or Eating Disorder NOS)

Eating Disorder NOS is diagnosed with an individual does not quite meet all the criteria needed for anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. For instance, an individual may restrict food and be underweight, but has not lost her period.

Other eating conditions of clinical significance may be diagnosed as an eating disorder NOS, such as binge eating disorder. This is diagnosed for people who binge eat, but do not engage in compensatory behaviors.

What can you do to help a person with an eating disorder?

Psychotherapy can help a person with an eating disorder, combined with medical treatment. Psychotherapy typically helps a person with an eating disorder change their behaviors through different techniques such as keeping a record of food that is eaten, and education on the recommended amount of food to eat in one day, as well as other techniques. Therapy can also help an individual with an eating disorder explore and change his/her thoughts regarding food and weight.

Due to the health risks involved with eating disorders, it is also recommended that an individual with an eating disorder seek medical assistance to assess their weight and/or other medical difficulties associated with the eating disorder. Individuals with eating disorders are also recommended to seek a nutritionist in order to discover healthy eating patterns and the best ways to regain the weight that may have been lost.


National Eating Disorder Association