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Conditions InDepth: Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are serious disturbances in eating behavior, such as extreme and unhealthy reduction of food intake or severe overeating. They also occur with feelings of distress or excessive concern about body shape or weight. The main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

Eating disorders often develop during adolescence or early adulthood, but may also start during childhood or later in adulthood. Females are much more likely than males to develop an eating disorder.

Eating disorders frequently occur with other psychiatric conditions, such as depression, substance abuse, and anxiety disorders. In addition, people with eating disorders can experience a range of physical health complications. While some of these are minor, others can cause serious heart conditions, kidney failure, osteoporosis, metabolic abnormalities, and even death.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which you have a fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even if underweight. Because of this you become obsessed with dieting and exercise, which leads to excessive weight loss. You are generally considered anorexic when you do not maintain your body weight at or above 85% of your expected weight.

Bulimia Nervosa

If you have bulimia nervosa, you also feel overly concerned with your weight and body image. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which you compulsively eat large amounts of food. This is called binge-eating. Then, you use unhealthy means, such as vomiting or laxatives to rid your body of the food, or water pills to reduce your weight. You may also diet or engage in extreme amounts of exercise to use up calories taken in through binge-eating.

Binge Eating Disorder

If you have binge eating disorder, you eat excessive amounts of food within a short period of time, generally 2 hours. Episodes of binge eating are associated with other factors like feeling shame or disgust.

During an episode, you feel a lack of control over your eating. Since there is no purging involved, you may be overweight for your age and height.

What are the risk factors for eating disorders?What are the symptoms of eating disorders?How are eating disorders diagnosed?What are the treatments for eating disorders?Are there screening tests for eating disorders?How can I reduce my risk of eating disorders?What questions should I ask my doctor?What is it like to live with eating disorders?Where can I get more information about eating disorders?

Revision Information

  • About eating disorders. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders website. Available at: http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders. Accessed May 18, 2016.

  • American Psychiatric Association. Practice guideline for the treatment of patients with eating disorders. National Guideline Clearinghouse website. Available at: http://www.guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=9318. Updated 2011. Accessed May 18, 2016.

  • Anorexia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 19, 2015. Accessed May 18, 2016.

  • Bulimia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 19, 2015. Accessed May 18, 2016.

  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). American Psychiatric Association; 2013.

  • Eating disorders: About more than food. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/index.shtml. Updated 2014. Accessed May 18, 2016.

  • Eating disorders in over 8s: management. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence website. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg9/chapter/1-Guidance. Updated January 2004. Accessed May 18, 2016.

The health information in this Health Library is provided by a third party. Parkridge Health System does not in any way create the content of this information. It is provided solely for informational purposes. It does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for proper medical care provided by a physician. Always consult with your doctor for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing, and care recommendations. Do not rely on information on this site as a tool for self-diagnosis. If you have a medical emergency, call 911.