Eating disorders are a broad group of serious conditions in which you're so preoccupied with food and weight that you can often focus on little else. The main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder, and there are also many subtypes.
Most people with eating disorders are females, but males also have eating disorders. The exception is binge-eating disorder, which appears to affect almost as many males as females.
Treatments for eating disorders usually involve psychotherapy, nutrition education, family counseling, medications and hospitalization.
The signs and symptoms of eating disorders vary with the particular type of eating disorder.
Anorexia symptoms may include:
Emotional and behavioral symptoms of anorexia may include:
Red flags that family and friends may notice include:
When you have bulimia, you have episodes of bingeing and purging. During these episodes, you typi
cally eat a large amount of food in a short amount of time and then try to rid yourself of the extra calories by vomiting or excessive exercise. In between these binge-purge episodes, you may eat very little or skip meals altogether. You may be a normal weight or even a bit overweigh
Bulimia symptoms may include:
Emotional and behavioral symptoms of bulimia may include:
When you have binge-eating disorder, you regularly eat excessive amounts of food (binge), sometimes for hours on end. You may eat when you're not hungry and continue eating even long after you're uncomfortably full. After a binge, you may try to diet or eat normal meals, triggering a new round of bingeing. You may be a normal weight, overweight or obese.
Emotional and behavioral symptoms of binge-eating disorder may include:
It's not known with certainty what causes eating disorders. As with other mental illnesses, the possible causes are complex and may result from an interaction of biological, psychological, family, genetic, environmental and social factors. Possible causes of eating disorders include:
Certain situations and events might increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. These risk factors may include:
Eating disorders are diagnosed based on signs, symptoms and eating habits. When doctors suspect someone has an eating disorder, they typically run a battery of tests and exams. These can help pinpoint a diagnosis and also check for related complications. You may see both a medical doctor and a mental health provider for a diagnosis.
Eating disorders cause a wide variety of complications, some of them life-threatening. The more severe or long lasting the eating disorder, the more likely you are to experience serious complications. Complications may include:
Although there's no sure way to prevent eating disorders, some steps may help. Pediatricians may be in a good position to identify early indicators of an eating disorder and prevent the development of full-blown illness. They can ask children questions about their eating habits and satisfaction with their appearance during routine medical appointments, for instance. Make sure children attend well-child doctor visits. These visits should include checks of body mass index and weight percentiles. Those checks can provide an early warning about overeating or undereating.
Family dining habits may also influence the relationships children develop with food. Try to eat at least some meals together as a family. Teach children about the pitfalls of dieting, and encourage healthy eating. If your child has symptoms of anxiety, depression or other mood disorders, seek medical care.
Parents and other adults also can cultivate and reinforce a healthy body image in children of any shape or size. Talk to children about their self-image and offer reassurance that body shapes can vary. Don't allow children to be teased about their appearance. And encourage your own children or family members to refrain from joking about other children or adults who are overweight or have a large body frame. These messages of acceptance and respect can help build healthy self-esteem and resilience that will carry children through the rocky periods of adolescence.
In addition, if you notice a family member or friend with low self-esteem, severe dieting, frequent overeating, hoarding of food or dissatisfaction with appearance, consider talking to him or her about these issues. Although you may not be able to prevent an eating disorder from developing, reaching out with compassion may encourage him or her to seek treatment.
When you have an eating disorder, taking care of your health needs often isn't one of your priorities. But proper self-care can help you feel better during and after treatment and help maintain your overall health.
Try to make these steps a part of your routine. But don't beat yourself up if you aren't able to do so every day: