Eating disorders are problems that affect a person’s eating behaviors as well as their attitudes and feelings about food — and about their body.
Eating disorders affect a person’s mental health and can cause serious harm to a person’s physical health.
There are several types of eating disorders.
What Are the Different Types of Eating Disorders?
Common types of eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID).
Anorexia. People with anorexia:
eat very little on purpose, leading to a very low body weight
have an intense fear of weight gain and fear looking fat
have a distorted body image and see themselves as fat even when they are very thin
People with anorexia are very strict about what and how much they will eat. They may think about food or calories almost all the time.
To lose weight, some people with anorexia fast or exercise too much. Others may use laxatives, diuretics (water pills), or enemas.
Bulimia. People with bulimia:
overeat and feel out of control to stop, called binge eating
do things to make up for overeating, such as:
make themselves throw up on purpose after overeating, called purging
use laxatives, diuretics, weight loss pills, fast, or exercise a lot to prevent weight gain
judge themselves based on body shape and weight
People with bulimia eat much more (during a set period of time) than most people would. If a person regularly binges and purges, it may be a sign of bulimia. Unlike people with anorexia who are very low weight, people with bulimia may be thin, average weight, or overweight. People with bulimia often hide their eating and purging from others.
Binge eating. People with binge eating disorder:
overeat and feel out of control to stop
eat large amounts even when they are not hungry
may feel upset or guilty after binge eating
often gain weight and may become very overweight
Many people with binge eating disorder eat faster than normal. They may eat alone so others don't see how much they are eating. Unlike people with bulimia, those with binge eating disorder do not make themselves throw up, use laxatives, or exercise a lot to make up for binge eating. If a person binge eats at least once a week for 3 months, it may be a sign of binge eating disorder.
ARFID. People with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder:
are not interested in food or avoid foods
lose weight, or don't gain expected amount of weight
are not afraid of gaining weight
don't have a poor body image
People with ARFID don't eat because they are turned off by the smell, taste, texture, or color of food. They may be afraid that they will choke or vomit. They don't have anorexia, bulimia, or another medical problem that would explain their eating behaviors.
How Do Eating Disorders Affect Health and Emotions?
Eating disorders can cause serious problems throughout the body.
Anorexia can lead to health problems caused by undernutrition and low body weight, such as:
problems at home and school because of eating behavior
What Causes Eating Disorders?
There's no one cause for eating disorders. Genes, environment, and stressful events all play a role. Some things can increase a person's chance of having an eating disorder, such as:
poor body image
too much focus on weight or looks
dieting at a young age
playing sports that focus on weight (gymnastics, ballet, ice skating, and wrestling)
having a family member with an eating disorder
mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, or OCD
How Are Eating Disorders Diagnosed?
Health care providers and mental health professionals diagnose eating disorders based on history, symptoms, thought patterns, eating behaviors, and an exam.
The doctor will check weight and height and compare these to previous measurements on growth charts. The doctor may order tests to see if there is another reason for the eating problems and to check for problems caused by the eating disorder.
How Are Eating Disorders Treated?
Eating disorders are best treated by a team that includes a doctor, dietitian, and therapist. Treatment includes nutrition counseling, medical care, and talk therapy (individual, group, and family therapy). The doctor might prescribe medicine to treat binge eating, anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns.
The details of the treatment depend on the type of eating disorder and how severe it is. Some people are hospitalized because of extreme weight loss and medical complications.
What if I Have an Eating Disorder?
If you think you may have an eating disorder:
Tell someone. Tell a parent, teacher, counselor, or an adult you trust. Let them know what you're going through. Ask them to help.
Get help early. When an eating disorder is caught early, a person has a better chance of recovery. Make an appointment with your doctor or an eating disorders specialist.
Go to all appointments. Treatment takes time and effort. Work hard to learn about yourself and your emotions. Ask questions any time you have them.
Be patient with yourself. There's so much to learn, and change happens a little at a time. Take care of yourself and be with people who support you.