What Are Eating Disorders?

There are many conditions that are characterized by unhealthy eating practices and relationships with food. Although there are many types of eating disorders, three specific syndromes come to mind: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. These eating disorders seem to develop during the teenage and young adult years and these illnesses are common in girls and women. There does not seem to be a precise cause of eating disorders, but it might be the psychological and medical issues that manifest during these years. Low self-esteem, anxiety, emotional problems, depression and substance abuse contribute to food issues.

Those with food difficulties tend to hide their problems, and they become very good at concealing these issues. This makes it very difficult to provide counseling, help or intervention. Behaviors can spiral out of control and now it is a life-changing habit. Eating disorders can turn into serious medical issues that have long-term health and lifestyle consequences.


Types of Eating Disorders

Food issues are power to those who suffer with eating disorder. They can control this aspect of their lives and it helps them to feel complete. It may start out as eating a bit more or less than usual, but the behavior soon spirals out of control and takes over.


Anorexia Nervosa Signs

Characteristics of anorexia nervosa are excessive dieting and weight loss. Often the patient exercises to the point of obsession and chooses to starve. Those with anorexia feel that they will never be thin enough and view themselves as “fat” or overweight no matter what the mirror, friend, family or acquaintances tell them.

If you have anorexia nervosa, you have a deep seated fear of gaining weight. You will diet and exercise relentlessly and not eat to the point of starvation. Getting rid of what little food you eat involves vomiting or issuing laxatives. You tend to have a highly distorted body image and you believe that friends and family plus your mirror are lying to you when they tell you how thin you are. Those with anorexia tend to count calories and refuse to eat anything but tiny portions. You always deny that you have an eating problem when confronted.

Most signs of anorexia are difficult to notice; these sign develop very gradually. There might be an over interest in dieting before going to a dance or on vacation, but as the disorder takes hold of your mind and body you become preoccupied with your weight. Quickly a vicious cycle of eating, purging, eating, and purging over and over again begins.

Family and friends need to be aware of the following symptoms and behavior, and if you suspect anorexia watch for:

  • Quick and dramatic weight loss
  • Change in wardrobe habits, i.e. from tight and cute to baggy and bulky
  • Eating and counting calories continually
  • Refusing to eat carbs or fats
  • Avoiding eating in front of others
  • Fixing wonderful meals, but refusing to eat
  • Exercising to the point of obsession
  • Continually making comments about being fat
  • No menstrual cycle
  • Stomach pains and constipation

If you notice these symptoms in your teen or young adult, get them medical attention and counseling as soon as possible. More than 10% of those with severe anorexia actually lose their lives. With the proper treatment you can gain back your weight and physical symptoms will disappear.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa includes cycles of bingeing or extreme overeating following by purging activities. There is a general feeling of loss of control concerning eating and eliminating.

Those with bulimia generally have normal weights. They do have the same fear of gaining weight and they also seem themselves as fat. It is almost desperation to lose weight. Those with bulimia are very good at hiding both the depression symptoms and the bulimic behaviors.

Watch for the signs and symptoms in those you suspect are bulimic. These symptoms include:

  • Discovering a large number of empty foods wrapper or containers and evidence of food disappearance in large amounts
  • When someone runs to the restroom after eating, listen for the symptoms of vomiting – smells and sounds. Check for packages of diuretics or laxatives.
  • Avoiding meals to prevent eating huge amounts in from of others
  • Excising to excess
  • Wearing larger than normal clothes to hide their body
  • Constant complaints about weight
  • Using gum, breath mints or mouthwash obsessively
  • Dieting continually
  • Scarred knuckles from inducing vomiting

Bulimic symptoms that are left untreated can cause irregular heart rhythms, kidney disease and problems as well as gastroesophageal reflux disease. Bulimia can be treated effectively by using counseling, antidepressants and cognitive-behavior enhancements. Antidepressants can also be used to treat depressive symptoms.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is regular episodes of dangerous overeating. There is no control over what you eat during these cycles and a depression is often a very high complication.

A binge eater dies not eat too much all the time, but has many episodes when they eat large quantities of all types of food. They are out of control during eating episodes and then feel guilty and depressed. You now have a very malicious cycle. The more upset you become about eating, the more you tend to eat. There is no purging or exercising involved and those who binge eat become obese in a very short period of time.

Binge eating does not discriminate between men and women and older people are often more at risk than young adults.

Binge eating symptoms can include:

  • Food disappearing in short amounts of time
  • Hoards of food in strange areas
  • Wearing baggy clothes to hide body issues
  • Avoid eating in front of others or skipping meals altogether and eating alone
  • Always dieting but never losing weight

Since binge eating often leads to high weight gains and obesity. There are serious health consequences if there is no intervention. Depression is a side effect of binge eating disorder and antidepressants plus psychotherapy are generally prescribed.

Eating disorders re illnesses. They do cause serious problems to everyday diets, lifestyle and health. Eating disorders start out small but gradually balloon into huge problems. The major symptom is severe distress about body image weight or shape and the psychological symptoms usually appear during the teen age and young adult years.

It is not totally known how many you adults suffer with significant eating disorders and there are other eating problems that are not specified and defined. However these disorders are real and can be treated. Usually eating disorders are coexistent with illnesses such s substance abuse, anxiety disorder or depression. Do know that if an eating disorder is not treated it can become life-threatening. Watch for the signs and symptoms and do be proactive if your young adult becomes unduly concerned about their weight.


HealthStatus has been operating since 1998 providing the best interactive health tools on the Internet, millions of visitors have used our blood alcohol, body fat and calories burned calculators. The HealthStatus editorial team has continued that commitment to excellence by providing our visitors with easy to understand high quality health content for many years. Our team of health professionals, and researchers use peer reviewed studies as source elements in our articles. Our high quality content has been featured in a number of leading websites, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, Live Strong, GQ, and many more.