An eating disorder is a potentially life-threatening, complex mental illness, which affects all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and socioeconomic statuses.
There are four main types of eating disorders, each with serious consequences for health, productivity and relationships.
An individual does not consume enough calories, leading to a significantly low body weight. There is an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat or there is a persistent behavior that interferes with weight gain despite the individual being significantly underweight. Those suffering with Anorexia Nervosa show a disturbance in the way they experience their body weight or shape, do not recognize the seriousness of their low weight or are overly reliant on their body weight or shape for their self-evaluation.
An individual experiences recurrent episodes of binge eating with a sense of lack of control while eating an amount of food larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time and under similar circumstances. A person also recurrently tries to make up for binging by compensating to avoid weight gain. Compensatory behaviors include: self-induced vomiting; misuse of laxatives, diuretics or other medications; fasting; or excessive exercise. While suffering from Bulimia Nervosa, individuals are overly concerned about their body weight and shape.
Binge Eating Disorder
An individual experiences recurrent episodes of binge eating with a sense of lack of control while eating an amount of food larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time and under similar circumstances. Binge eating episodes may include eating much more rapidly than normal, eating until feeling uncomfortably full, eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry, eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much they are eating and feeling disgusted with themselves, depressed or very guilty afterwards. There is no use of compensatory behaviors, as in Bulimia Nervosa.
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
An individual experiences restrictive or avoidant eating behaviors that result in significant weight loss, growth compromise, nutritional deficiencies or significant interference with psychosocial functioning. The individual may rely on nutritional supplements. Individuals with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder do not fear weight gain, and are not dissatisfied with their body weight, shape or size and lack cognitions typically associated with anorexia nervosa.
Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders
Individuals who meet some but not all of the criteria for an eating disorder, and suffer from extremely disturbed eating habits, and/or a distorted body image and/or overvaluation of shape and weight and/or an intense fear of gaining weight (if underweight).
Eating disorders are treatable and there are a number of program options, working with different types of professionals ranging from mental health professionals to physicians to dietitians.
Treatment programs design plans for each individual and their specific needs, and vary from person to person; families are often involved in the recovery process.
If you require further information about getting treatment for an eating disorder, please visit our Eating Disorder Treatment page. There you will find specific services for the area in which you live.