Eating Disorder Facts

The term “eating disorder” refers to serious and sometimes life-threatening mental health problems that cause unusual eating behaviors. Learn More ›

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (or simply anorexia) is an eating disorder in which people intentionally starve themselves. It causes extreme weight loss, which the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), defines as at least 15 percent below the individual's normal body weight.

Food and weight become obsessions. Compulsiveness may cause strange eating rituals or the refusal to eat in front of others. It is not uncommon for people with anorexia to collect recipes and prepare gourmet feasts for family and friends, but not partake in the meals themselves. They may also adhere to strict exercise routines to keep off weight.

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Bulimia Nervosa Information

Bulimia nervosa, usually referred to as bulimia, is defined as uncontrolled episodes of overeating (bingeing) and usually followed by purging (self-induced vomiting), misuse of laxatives, enemas, or medications that cause increased production of urine, fasting, or excessive exercise to control weight. Bingeing, in this situation, is defined as eating much larger amounts of food than would normally be consumed within a short period of time (usually less than two hours).

The cause of bulimia is not known. Factors believed to contribute to the development of bulimia include cultural ideals and social attitudes toward body appearance, self-valuation based on body weight and shape, and family problems.

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Understanding Compulsive Overeating

People who chronically overeat may be suffering from a common eating disorder known as compulsive overeating, also known as binge eating.

This eating disorder is characterized by eating large amounts of food, by eating quickly (often to the point of discomfort), and eating when no longer hungry. While many people experience a food binge periodically, the compulsive overeater averages binging two times a week for at least six months.

Compulsive overeating may start gradually. For example, a child may turn to food when upset. Over time, the child learns food soothes upset feelings.

The disorder may develop when others make repeated negative comments about a person's weight. It may develop after a traumatic event in childhood, or after restrictive dieting. A person's home environment also can play a role. For example, if a person’s parents were overcontrolling or not present, that person may not have had good role models for eating.

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Eating Disorders in Men

Most people think it is women who believe their bodies must look a certain way because of the body types portrayed on TV, runway models, movie stars, magazines, coaches, parents, friends, classmates, heroes, and Barbie dolls. They think it is women who try to achieve these body types and may suffer from eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia nervosa, or binging.

And until recently, they were right. The majority of those seeking treatment for these disorders were women.

Not anymore. Boys and men have eating disorders, too.

It's becoming more acceptable for men to seek help because an eating disorder is normal and not so much of a label anymore. So men are coming out and saying they have it, whereas before they hadn't been open to seeking treatment.

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Beating an Eating Disorder

With eating disorders affecting girls at ever-younger ages, a surprisingly simple tactic might help: Dine as a family.

Since society has so much influence on adolescents because of the high prevalence of obesity and the pressure to be skinny, many girls are turning to unhealthy ways of controlling their weight. Prioritizing structured family meals that take place in a positive environment can protect girls from destructive eating habits. It doesn't have to be a home-cooked meal. The idea is to bring people together.

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia have risen steadily. Diagnoses now peak among girls ages 11 to 13.

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Your Guide to Eating Disorders

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