Eating Disorders General Information

Eating Disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.  Eating disorders are serious emotional and physical problems that can have life-threatening consequences.

While eating disorders may begin with preoccupations with food and weight, they are most often about much more than food.  People with eating disorders often  use food and the control of food in an attempt to compensate for feelings and emotions that may otherwise seem overwhelming.  For wome, dieting, bingeing, and purging may begin as a way to cope with painful emotions and to feel in control of one’s life, but ultimately, these behaviors will damage a person’s physical and emotional health, self-esteem, and sense of competence and control.

Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia Nervosa  A serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.  Individuals with anorexia nervosa have an intense fear of being fat in spite of excessive weight loss.

Bulimia Nervosa  A serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)  A type of eating disorder characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of compensatory measures to counter the binge eating.

Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)  These can include some combination of the signs and symptoms of the above disorders, but not all of the criteria necessary to meet a specific diagnosis.  Like all eating disorders, EDNOS are physically dangerous and emotionally destructive.

Disordered Eating

Even if individuals don’t fit the clinical description of an eating disorder, they may be wrapped up in disordered eating.  Disordered eating means that a person’s attitudes about food, weight, and body size and shape may be causing them to have very strict eating and exercise habits that jeopardize their health, happiness, and safety.

Disordered eating may begin as a way to lose a few pounds or get in shape, but these behaviors can quickly spiral out of control, can become obsessions, and may even become a full-blown eating disorder.

Warning Signs

  • A marked increase or decrease in weight
  • The development of abnormal eating habits such as severe dieting, preference for strange foods, withdrawn or ritualized behavior during mealtimes, or secretive bingeing
  • An intense preoccupation with weight and body image
  • Compulsive or excessive eating
  • Self-induced vomiting, periods of fasting, or laxative, diet pill, or diuretic abuse
  • Feelings of isolation, depression, or irritability


Eating disorders require the care of a trained professional with expertise in the treatment of eating disorders.  People with eating disorders need to seek professional help.  Early diagnosis and intervention significantly enhance recovery.  If not identified or treated in their early stages, eating disorders can become chronic, debilitating, and even life-threatening conditions.

The most effective and long-lasting treatment for an eating disorder is some form of psychotherapy or counseling, coupled with careful attention to medical and nutritional needs.  Whatever treatment is offered should be tailored to the individual, and this will vary according to the severity of the disorder and the patient’s individual problems, needs, and strengths.

Treatment must address the eating disorder symptoms, as well as psychological, biological, nutritional, interpersonal, and cultural forces that contribute to or maintain the eating disorder.  The exact treatment needs of each individual will vary.  It is important for individuals struggling with an eating disorder to find a health professional they trust to help coordinate and oversee their care.

How to Help a Friend

Learn as much as you can about eating disorders.  Read books, articles, brochures, and credible internet information.

Know the difference between facts and myths about nutrition and exercise.  Knowing the facts will help you reason against inaccuracies that your friend may be using as excuses to maintain disordered eating patterns.

Be honest.  Talk openly and honestly about your concerns.  Avoiding or ignoring the issue won’t help!

Be caring, but be firm.  Caring about friends does not mean being manipulated by them.  Your friend must be responsible for his/her actions and their consequences.

Tell someone.  It may seem very difficult to know when, if ever, to tell someone else about your concerns.  Addressing body image or eating problems in their beginning stages offers your friend the best chance for working through them and becoming healthy.  Don’t wait until the situation is so severe that your friend’s life is in danger.  Consider telling parents, a teacher, a doctor, a counselor, a nutritionist, or any trusted adult.

(Information taken from the National Eating Disorders Association)