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General Information


What is an eating disorder?

If you find yourself constantly worrying about your weight and thinking about what you are or aren’t going to eat, you may have an unhealthy relationship with food. Thinking about food is a normal part of living, but obsessing about food and body weight is not. Sometimes, abnormal and unhealthy eating behaviors develop from obsessive attitudes about food and body image.

Eating disorders involve serious disturbances in eating, such as:

  • not eating enough, starving yourself or limiting calories to an absurdly low level
  • only eating certain things (for example, broccoli, white rice and popcorn) at the expense of a nutritional and healthy diet
  • eating unhealthy amounts of food in short periods of time
  • taking drastic measures to reduce or maintain your body weight (binging; purging through vomiting, diuretics or laxatives; excessive exercise)

You might think that your efforts to control your eating are a healthy way to achieve the body you want, but if your eating habits consume your thoughts and dictate your social activities, things may have gotten out of control. What may have started as a plan to lose a few pounds might have turned into unhealthy and destructive eating patterns.

Generally, eating disorders stem from self-critical and negative attitudes about body shape and appearance, conflicting feelings about food (often it is seen as both a source of comfort and shame), and unhealthy or extreme weight management practices and eating habits. Eating disorders significantly damage normal body functioning and can be life-threatening.

What are the main types of eating disorders?

Currently, research and information focus on three main eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

  • Anorexia is associated with a distorted body image; thinking you are fat even though you are underweight. Serious health consequences can result from literal starvation. About 1% (or one out of 100) women between the ages of 10 and 20 have anorexia.
  • Bulimia is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating (rapid consumption of food in a short period of time), and purging (self-induced vomiting or usage of laxatives). About 4% (or four out of one hundred) of college-aged women have bulimia.
  • Binge eating disorder refers to a pattern of consumption of large amounts of food, even when a person is not hungry. About 1% of women have binge eating disorder, as well as 30% of women who seek treatment to lose weight.

What are the risk factors for eating disorders?

You might have developed unhealthy eating habits in your efforts to control or alleviate emotional difficulties. If you feel out of control because of internal conflict or circumstances beyond your control, you might have unconsciously turned to food to ease your pain or exert some control over your life.

Common circumstances and risk factors that contribute to the development of eating disorders include:

  • Family problems or a troubled home life – Family instability can wreak havoc on your sense of security. If the home is a place of yelling, violence or neglect, self esteem suffers. Additional problems are caused by incompetent or neglectful parents. Taking on the responsibilities and problems of an adult, like paying bills or watching younger siblings, can create feelings of powerlessness and insecurity.
  • Major life changes – Most people, and particularly young people, are comforted by a sense of predictability and security. When life changes suddenly and dramatically, it can seem very scary and dangerous. Events that could have this effect include: divorce, death of a loved one, puberty, moving to a new place, starting high school, etc.
  • Romantic or social problems – Romantic problems and friendship instability can cause significant upheaval and insecurity. Lack of perspective may cause a person to feel like a breakup is the end of love and acceptance forever.
  • Abuse or trauma – Physical or sexual abuse or other major trauma has the potential to quickly erase your sense of self worth. Between one-third and two-thirds of patients who go to treatment centers for eating disorders have experienced some type of abuse in the past.

Psychological Factors:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life
  • Depression, anxiety, anger, or loneliness
  • Painful emotions or stress

Interpersonal Factors:

  • Troubled family and personal relationships
  • Difficulty expressing emotions and feelings
  • History of being teased or ridiculed based on size or weight

Social Factors:

  • Cultural pressures that glorify "thinness" and obtaining the "perfect body"
  • Narrow definitions of beauty that include only women and men of specific body weights and shapes.
  • Cultural norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance and not inner qualities and strengths.

Other Factors:

  • In some individuals with eating disorders, the brain chemicals that control hunger, appetite, and digestion may be imbalanced.

What are the physical and social effects of eating disorders?

If you have an eating disorder, you might not be aware of how much damage you are doing to your body and self-esteem. Although different eating disorders have different physical and emotional effects, all impair the body’s normal functioning, cause long term health concerns and significantly impact social and emotional well-being.

Social and emotional effects (some of which may also be causes)

  • social isolation
  • shame and guilt
  • depression
  • low self-esteem
  • single-minded focus on appearance and weight
  • lack of interest or involvement in other activities
  • disinterest in school or work

Physical effects


  • loss of menstrual periods
  • dry, brittle bones due to significant bone density loss (osteoporosis)
  • dry, brittle nails and hair; or hair loss
  • lowered resistance to illness
  • digestive problems such as bloating or constipation
  • muscle loss and weakness
  • severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure
  • fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness
  • long term health problems including heart trouble, low blood pressure, low heart rate, low body temperature, poor circulation, anemia and stunted growth

For more information, please visit Helpguide's Anorexia: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, Effects, and Treatments.


  • dehydration (can lead to irregular heartbeats, heart problems, and even death)
  • inflammation of the esophagus from frequent vomiting
  • tooth and gum problems
  • bowel irregularity and constipation from laxative abuse
  • vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • chronic kidney problems or failure

For more information, please visit Helpguide's Bulimia: Signs, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatments.

Binge eating disorder

  • obesity and related health problems including high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, liver and kidney problems, certain types of cancer
  • decreased mobility
  • shortness of breath

For more information, please visit Helpguide's Binge Eating Disorder: Signs, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatments.

Who is most at risk to develop an eating disorder?

Adolescents and young adults are mostly like to develop an eating disorder, but some research indicates that the onset can occur as young as childhood or later in adulthood.

Eating disorders affect males and females, all socio-economic classes and ethnic groups. Statistically, women have more eating disorders than men, due to societal and cultural stereotypes that favor thin women. However, eating disorders are not just a "woman’s problem." Males preoccupied with shape and weight can also develop eating disorders as well as dangerous shape control practices like steroid use.


taken from

The greasy fry, it cannot lie, the truth is written on your thigh.