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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, and even death.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which you are 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 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 binging. Then, you use unhealthy means, such as vomiting, laxatives, or water pills, to rid your body of the food. You may also diet or engage in extreme amounts of exercise to use up calories taken in through binging.

Binge Eating Disorder

If you have binge eating disorder, you eat excessive amounts of food within a short period of time. Episodes of binge eating are associated with at least three of the following:

  • Eating more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until you feel uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food although you don’t feel hungry
  • Eating alone due to embarrassment about the amount of food you eat
  • Feeling disgusted about yourself, depressed, or guilty about your eating behavior

During an episode, you feel a lack of control over your eating. On average, binge eating occurs at least two days a week for six months. You do not purge your body of the excess calories; therefore, you may be overweight for your age and height. During and after a binge, you feel self-disgust and shame, which can lead to another binge.

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?

References:

About eating disorders. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders website. Available at: http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/. Accessed July 11, 2013.

Anorexia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated February 20, 2013. Accessed July 11, 2013.

Bulimia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated March 28, 2013. Accessed July 11, 2013.

Eating disorders. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/index.shtml. Updated 2011. Accessed July 11, 2013.

Yager J, Devlin MJ, et al. Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Eating Disorders. 3rd ed. American Psychiatric Association; 2006. Available at: http://www.guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=9318. Accessed July 11, 2013.



Last reviewed July 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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