Eating disorders involve extreme preoccupation with food and weight and are linked to serious medical problems. They affect people of all ages and genders, but are most common during adolescence and early adulthood. They can cause heart, digestive and other health problems. They also can lead to depression, anxiety and suicide. If you have an eating disorder, treatment can help you return to healthy eating habits and develop a healthier view of body shape and size.
There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. Each has its own symptoms and causes, but they all involve unhealthy eating behaviors and a distorted view of body weight and shape. People with anorexia nervosa severely restrict calories and may starve themselves, causing low body weight and a distorted body image. They fear gaining weight and often see themselves as overweight even though they are dangerously underweight. People with bulimia nervosa regularly eat large amounts of food, but then purge the calories by making themselves throw up or by using laxatives or excessive exercise. People with bulimia can be of any body weight, but they are more likely to be in the higher range of normal weight or slightly overweight.
The most common type of eating disorder is binge-eating disorder, which means that you regularly eat very large amounts of food, quickly and without control. You may feel out of control during the binge and struggle with feelings of shame, distress or guilt afterwards. People with binge-eating disorder don’t use unhealthy compensatory behaviors like vomiting or over-exercising to avoid gaining weight after eating.
Binge-eating disorder is associated with higher levels of obesity, but it can be treated just as effectively as other eating disorders. Binge-eating disorder is often seen in conjunction with a mental health condition such as anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Most eating disorders are caused by a combination of factors. They can be triggered by a stressful event, such as a death, divorce or loss of a job; pressure to look a certain way, such as in the media; or by a change in a person’s life, such as starting school, moving house or going through a relationship break-up. Many people with an eating disorder have a family history of the disease and some research suggests that genes may play a role.
Anyone who has an eating disorder should seek help from a trained professional. The earlier that an eating disorder is diagnosed, the sooner a person can get effective treatment. It is important to talk with a doctor or therapist about concerns, because it can be difficult to admit that you have a problem. People with eating disorders are at risk of not getting the care they need, and they may suffer serious medical complications as a result. If you have a friend or loved one who has an eating disorder, urge them to get help. Eating disorders can be very serious and may lead to death if not treated.