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Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders are a group of mental illnesses characterized by abnormal eating habits and distorted thoughts about food, weight, and body shape.

Eating Disorders

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating Disorders are a group of mental illnesses characterized by abnormal eating habits and distorted thoughts about food, weight, and body shape.

Anorexia nervosa is a condition characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight, a distorted body image, and an aversion to food. People with anorexia often weigh themselves frequently, eat small portions, and engage in excessive exercise.

Bulimia nervosa is a condition characterized by binge eating, followed by purging through vomiting, laxative use, or excessive exercise. People with bulimia often feel a loss of control during binge eating episodes, and experience shame and guilt about their eating habits.

Both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa can have serious physical and psychological consequences, and treatment typically involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

How do Eating Disorders affect people?

Eating Disorders can affect people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. However, they are most commonly diagnosed in adolescent girls and young women, although increasing numbers of boys and men are being diagnosed as well.

It is estimated that 0.9% to 4.0% of the general population will develop anorexia nervosa at some point in their lives, and 1.5% to 3.5% will develop bulimia nervosa. Binge eating disorder, which is characterized by binge eating episodes without purging, is the most common type of eating disorder, affecting 2.8% of the population.

It is important to note that eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that can have significant impacts on a person's physical and emotional well-being. They should not be trivialized or dismissed, and prompt treatment is important for the best possible outcome.

What are the symptoms of an Eating Disorders?

The symptoms of Eating Disorders can vary depending on the type of disorder, but some common signs and symptoms include:

Anorexia Nervosa:

  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat

  • Distorted body image or perception of size or shape of one's body

  • Refusal to maintain a healthy body weight

  • Extreme restriction of food intake, often leading to starvation

  • Extremely limited food choices and rituals around food preparation and consumption

  • Compulsive exercise

  • Amenorrhea (absence of menstrual periods) in women

  • Abnormal laboratory findings such as low levels of electrolytes, anemia, and low white blood cell count

Bulimia Nervosa:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating, characterized by the consumption of copious amounts of food in a short amount of time, often accompanied by a sense of loss of control

  • Purging behaviors, such as vomiting, laxative or diuretic use, fasting, or excessive exercise, to compensate for the calories consumed during binge eating

  • Frequent weight fluctuations

  • Fear of not being able to stop binge eating

  • Shame or guilt about binge eating and purging behaviors

  • Abnormal laboratory findings, such as electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, and damage to the digestive system

It is important to note that these symptoms can be indicative of other physical or mental health conditions, and a qualified healthcare professional should be consulted to determine the underlying cause and appropriate course of treatment.

What are the diagnosis criteria for Eating Disorders?

The diagnosis criteria for Eating Disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). The DSM-5 is a widely used manual for diagnosing mental disorders. The following are the DSM-5 criteria for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa:

Anorexia Nervosa:

  • Restriction of energy intake leading to a significantly low body weight in the context of age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health

  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, or persistent behavior that interferes with weight gain, even though at a significantly low weight

  • Disturbance in the way in which one's body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or persistent lack of recognition of the seriousness of the current low body weight

Bulimia Nervosa:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating, characterized by the consumption of an amount of food that is larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time and under similar circumstances

  • A sense of lack of control overeating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating)

  • Recurrent inappropriate compensatory behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medications; fasting; or excessive exercise

  • The binge eating and compensatory behaviors both occur, on average, at least once a week for three months

  • Self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight

Note that these are the diagnostic criteria as specified in the DSM-5, and other criteria or assessment tools may be used by healthcare professionals in diagnosing eating disorders. A comprehensive evaluation, including a thorough medical and psychological evaluation, is necessary to make an accurate diagnosis and develop a suitable treatment plan.

What are some strategies and Therapies for overcoming Eating Disorders?

The treatment of Eating Disorders typically involves psychotherapy, medication, and medical monitoring. The specific treatment plan will depend on the individual's needs, the type and severity of their eating disorder, and any co-occurring mental or physical health conditions.


  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in treating eating disorders. CBT focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviors related to food, weight, and body image.

  • Family-based therapy (FBT) involves the family in the treatment process. FBT has been shown to be effective in treating adolescents with anorexia nervosa.

  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) focuses on improving communication and relationships with others, and has also been shown to be effective in treating eating disorders.


  • Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have been shown to be effective in treating bulimia nervosa.

  • Olanzapine, an atypical antipsychotic, has been shown to be effective in treating anorexia nervosa in some cases.

Medical Monitoring:

  • Regular monitoring by a medical professional is important for individuals with eating disorders, as they can have serious physical consequences such as electrolyte imbalances, heart problems, and malnutrition.

In addition to these treatments, a holistic approach that includes support from loved ones, a healthy and balanced diet, and regular physical activity can also be helpful in overcoming an eating disorder.

It is important to note that recovery from an eating disorder is a long-term process, and relapses can occur. The key to successful treatment is to seek help early, be proactive in one's own recovery, and support a positive attitude and support system.

This content is provided for informational and entertainment value only. It is not a replacement for a trained professional's diagnosis or for the treatment of any illness. If you feel like you are struggling with this condition, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional. With the right treatment and support, individuals with this condition can learn to manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives. BetterPsych provides full psychological services via telehealth and offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee on our services. For more information and to find a therapist specializing in this disorder, please call (833) 496-5011, or visit

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