Eating disorders 101
Eating disorders are serious and often fatal illnesses that cause severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors. Obsessions with food, body weight and shape may also signal an eating disorder. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge-eating disorder.
When your relationship with food causes a negative impact on your life, it’s important to remember that support is available.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) recognizes the following as eating disorders:
- refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height
- intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight
- recurrent episodes of binge eating
- recurrent behavior that prevents weight gain
- this behavior may include self-induced vomiting; misuse/abuse of laxatives or diuretics; and/or fasting or excessive exercise
Binge eating disorder
- uncontrollable episodes of binge eating
- eating much more rapidly than normal
- eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
- feelings disgust or guilt after overeating
Eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS)
- must be determined that there is a severe eating disorder
- no positive diagnostic criteria for EDNOS need to be fulfilled
- diagnosis by exclusion of other eating disorders
The National Eating Disorders Association estimates more than 20 million women and more than 10 million men in the United States will have an eating disorder.
The pressure of contributing factors
Those suffering from eating disorders “have significantly elevated mortality rates.” The highest mortality rates involve those suffering from anorexia nervosa. Experts point to a variety of biological, psychological and cultural factors that can lead to these disorders.
These can include social factors such as:
- societal representations of the ideal body shape as slim and fit
- peer and societal pressure to achieve and maintain the ideal body type
- societal tendency to prioritize image
Eating disorders may be triggered by:
- taking on new or changed responsibilities
- believing that love and acceptance hinges on image
- not having a strong support system or communication with loved ones
- ending of a relationship
- experiencing pregnancy and/or childbirth
- grieving the loss of a loved one
Mental and emotional triggers can also include:
- having little to no self-esteem
- having a distorted body image
- being too focused on achieving perfection
- experiencing feelings of depression and/or anxiety
- having obsessive thoughts
Biological changes due to puberty and adolescence, genetics and family traditions that emphasize food and image can also lead to eating disorders.
Mental wellness at risk
Eating disorders affect your physical and mental health and are widely considered to be life-threatening conditions. Combined, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Up to 50% of those living with anorexia nervosa “have a comorbid mood disorder, such as depression.” Close to half of those living with bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and EDNOS have such a mood disorder as well.