Eating Disorders

What are Eating Disorders?

Binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa are common eating disorders in which people develop unhealthy attitudes and behaviors towards food. Binge eating disorder (BED) is where a person consumes lots of food in a short span of time and then feels a loss of control and shame afterwards. Anorexia and bulimia are similar in that the sufferers are obsessed with losing weight. However, anorexics starve themselves while bulimics will purge after eating. Anorexia and bulimia are quite common in young women, although men are affected as well. Binge eating can happen at any age but is often seen in middle-aged people.  Anorexia and bulimia are often caused by an abnormal fear of weight gain or an obsession with a particular body type. Binging often stems from depression, anxiety, boredom, and stress. Sometimes a traumatic life event can trigger an eating disorder. Although these three disorders are the most well-known, there are other eating disorders like pica, rumination syndrome, and night eating syndrome (NES).

People diagnosed with pica have appetites for non-nutritive substances like paper, paint, glass, etc. Pica is often caused by stressful events, such as familial issues or emotional trauma. Pregnant women and those with autism are also susceptible to developing pica.

Rumination syndrome is a rare subconscious behavior where a person will eat normally, but after an hour or so, undigested food comes up from the esophagus. This condition mostly affects children and infants, but some adults are affected by it as well. It mainly affects those with developmental disabilities because it may be related to their unvoiced dislike of a certain food.

Night eating syndrome (NES) is a delayed circadian pattern of eating which then causes weight gain. NES is similar to binge eating in that the person suffering from the condition may feel shame or guilt after eating. However, those with NES usually don’t consume as much food in one sitting as binge eaters.

What are the Symptoms of Eating Disorders?

Some of the symptoms of eating disorders are difficult to spot unless a close family member or friend monitors the habits of the person with the disorder.

Symptoms include

Outwardly, those with eating disorders may appear stressed, bored, depressed, anxious, or even secretive.

Binge eaters may personally experience a stomach ache after eating and feel so guilty, they turn to food for comfort and repeat the cycle. Those with anorexia and bulimia may take lots of laxatives, diet pills, or diuretics. Some may consume very small amounts of food or play with it on their plate. Extreme calorie counting and an obsession with weight loss are also symptoms of these disorders.

Those with anorexia may not only look skinny, but they may experience constipation, be sensitive to the cold, have brittle hair and nails, and feel lethargic. Women with anorexia may stop having periods, which is known as amenorrhea.

Bulimics may experience constipation, dehydration, heart problems, swollen salivary glands, yellow or worn-down enamel, and sore throats.

Eating Disorders Causes

Several factors can lead to an eating disorder. The most well-known causes are negative body image and poor self-esteem. There are environmental and biological factors that can contribute too. Environmental factors are things like a dysfunctional family or a profession that promotes a particular body image, such as modeling or ballet. Eating disorders can also arise because of trauma; sometimes the victim thinks if that if they didn’t look the way they did, the trauma wouldn’t have happened or they lose the ability to care about themselves. Major life changes can also lead to eating disorders. Eating disorders can also arise because of biological issues, for example if hormones are off-balance, an eating disorder can occur to try to help compensate for the imbalance. Genetics and nutritional deficiencies are also possible reasons for an eating disorder to arise. The exact gene that relates to eating disorders isn’t known, but scientists know that genetics play a large role.

How are Eating Disorders Treated?

Most eating disorders can be treated with a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, and nutrition counseling. Anorexics may need to be hospitalized to safely gain back weight under observation. Counseling will help the patients identify external event or a stressors that cause them to turn to negative eating behaviors. Coming up with an appropriate diet with a physician can help patients develop good habits.

In some cases, anti-depressants may be prescribed.

Eating Disorders Prevention

The best prevention for eating disorders is to know what’s healthy for you and to be satisfied with it. An extensive culture prevention program that’s being implemented is to change the idea that being thin and muscular is the only correct way to be. People who are overweight or just stocky are at a higher risk of eating disorders because of the cultural ideal. To combat this, encouraging acceptance of everyone, no matter weight or body size is a tremendous start to preventing eating disorders; people listen and learn how to view themselves based on the way you speak about their bodies. Another prevention technique is to be critical about the body image the media portrays; the media portrays an unhealthy body image, so be vocal about it because family and friends listen and learn from everyone around them.

Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
December 18, 2017