ANRED logo: eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating disorder: information and resources

The better known eating disorders

There are many diseases, disorders, and problem conditions involving food, eating, and weight, but in everyday conversation, the term "eating disorders" has come to mean anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating, which are defined on this page. Definitions of lesser-known problems, are on the next page.

  • Anorexia nervosa: the relentless pursuit of thinness

    • Person refuses to maintain normal body weight for age and height.
    • Weighs 85% or less than what is expected for age and height.
    • In women, menstrual periods stop. In men levels of sex hormones fall.
    • Young girls do not begin to menstruate at the appropriate age
    • Person denies the dangers of low weight.
    • Is terrified of becoming fat.
    •  Is terrified of gaining weight even though s/he is markedly underweight.
    • Reports feeling fat even when very thin.
    • In addition, anorexia nervosa often includes depression, irritability, withdrawal, and peculiar behaviors such as compulsive rituals, strange eating habits, and division of foods into "good/safe" and "bad/dangerous" categories. Person may have low tolerance for change and new situations; may fear growing up and assuming adult responsibilities and an adult lifestyle. May be overly engaged with or dependent on parents or family. Dieting may represent avoidance of, or ineffective attempts to cope with, the demands of a new life stage such as adolescence.

  • Bulimia nervosa: the diet-binge-purge disorder

    • Person binge eats.
    • Feels out of control while eating.
    • Vomits, misuses laxatives, exercises, or fasts to get rid of the calories.
    • Diets when not bingeing. Becomes hungry and binges again.
    • Believes self-worth requires being thin. (It does not.)
    • May shoplift, be promiscuous, and abuse alcohol, drugs, and credit cards.
    • Weight may be normal or near normal unless anorexia is also present.
    • Like anorexia, bulimia can kill. Even though bulimics put up a brave front, they are often depressed, lonely, ashamed, and empty inside. Friends may describe them as competent and fun to be with, but underneath, where they hide their guilty secrets, they are hurting. Feeling unworthy, they have great difficulty talking about their feelings, which almost always include anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and deeply buried anger. Impulse control may be a problem; e.g., shoplifting, sexual adventurousness, alcohol and drug abuse, and other kinds of risk-taking behavior. Person acts with little consideration of consequences.

  • Binge eating disorder

    • The person binge eats frequently and repeatedly.
    • Feels out of control and unable to stop eating during binges.
    • May eat rapidly and secretly, or may snack and nibble all day long.
    • Feels guilty and ashamed of binge eating.
    • Has a history of diet failures
    • Tends to be depressed and obese.
    • People who have binge eating disorder do not regularly vomit, overexercise, or abuse laxatives like bulimics do. They may be genetically predisposed to weigh more than the cultural ideal (which at present is exceedingly unrealistic), so they diet, make themselves hungry, and then binge in response to that hunger. Or they may eat for emotional reasons: to comfort themselves, avoid threatening situations, and numb emotional pain. Regardless of the reason, diet programs are not the answer. In fact, diets almost always make matters worse. Information reported in the March 2002 New England Journal of Medicine suggests that for some, but not all, people a genetic flaw in combination with lifestyle factors can predispose to binge eating and subsequent obesity.

  • Eating disorders not otherwise specified (ED-NOS)

 An official diagnosis
    • The phrase describes atypical eating disorders
    • Including situations in which a person meets all but a few of the criteria for a particular diagnosis.
    • What the person is doing with regard to food and weight is neither normal nor healthy.

 Warning! Please Note: ANRED information is not a substitute for medical or psychological evaluation and treatment. For help with the physical and emotional problems associated with eating disorders, talk to your physician and a mental health professional.

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