Eating Disorders

Signs & Symptoms   |   Causes   |    Treatment   |   Questions to Ask   |   Self-Care/Prevention

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Common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and bulimia nervosa. With these, persons are obsessed with food and/or body weight. Eating disorders are a way to cope. They are serious health problems.

Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior

Signs & Symptoms

For Anorexia Nervosa

•  Loss of a lot of weight in a short time.

•  Intense, irrational fear of weight gain and/or of looking fat. Obsession with fat, calories, and weight.

•  Distorted body image. Despite being below a normal weight for height and age, the person sees himself or herself as fat.

•  A need to be perfect or in control in one area of life.

•  Marked physical signs. These include loss of hair, slowed heart rate, and low blood pressure. The person feels cold due to a lowered body temperature. In females, menstrual periods can stop.

For Binge Eating Disorder

•  Periods of nonstop eating that are not related to hunger.

•  Impulsive binging on food without purging.

•  Dieting and/or fasting over and over.

•  Weight can range from normal weight to mild, moderate, or severe obesity.

For Bulimia Nervosa

•  Repeated acts of binge eating and purging. Purging can be through vomiting; taking laxatives, water pills, and/or diet pills; fasting; and exercising a lot to “undo” the binge.

•  Excessive concern about body weight.

•  Being overweight, underweight, or normal weight.

•  Dieting often.

•  Dental problems. Mouth sores. Chronic sore throat.

•  Spending a lot of time in bathrooms.

•  Because of binge-purge cycles, severe health problems can occur. These include an irregular heartbeat and damage to the stomach, kidneys and bones.

Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention



An exact cause has not been found. Persons from all backgrounds, ages, and genders are affected.

Risk Factors for Eating Disorders

•  A family history of eating disorders.

•  Pressure from society to be thin.

•  Personal and family pressures.

•  Sexual, physical, or alcohol abuse in the past.

•  Fear of starting puberty. Fear of having sex.

•  Pressure for athletes to lose weight or to be thin for competitive sports.

•  Chronic dieting.


•  Counseling. This can be individual, family, group, and/or behavioral therapy.

•  Support groups.

•  Medication.

•  Nutrition therapy.

•  Outpatient treatment programs.

•  Hospitalization, if needed.

Questions to Ask

Self-Care / Prevention

Eating disorders need professional treatment.

To Help Prevent an Eating Disorder

•  Learn to accept yourself and your body. You don’t need to be or look like anyone else. Spend time with people who accept you as you are, not people who focus on “thinness.”

•  Know that self-esteem does not have to depend on body weight.

•  Eat nutritious foods. Focus on whole grains, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, and low-fat meats.

•  Commit to a goal of normal eating. Realize that this will take time. It will also take courage to fight fears of gaining weight.

•  Don’t skip meals. If you do, you are more likely to binge when you eat.

•  Avoid white flour, sugar and foods high in sugar and fat, such as cakes, cookies, and pastries. Bulimics tend to binge on junk food. The more they eat, the more they want.

•  Find success in things that you do.

•  Get regular moderate exercise 3 to 4 times a week. If you exercise more than your doctor advises, do non-exercise activities with friends and family.

•  Learn as much as you can about eating disorders from books and places that deal with them.

•  To help their children avoid eating disorders, parents should promote a balance between their child’s competing needs for independence and family involvement.

To Treat an Eating Disorder

•  Follow your treatment plan.

•  Attend counseling sessions and/or support group meetings as scheduled.

•  Identify feelings before, during, and after you overeat, binge, purge, or restrict food intake. What is it that you are hoping the food will do?

•  Set small goals that you can easily reach. Congratulate yourself for every success. This is a process. Accept setbacks. Learn from them.

•  Talk to someone instead of turning to food.

•  Learn to express your rights. You have the right to say “no” and the right to express your feelings and your opinions. You have the right to ask that your needs are met.

•  Keep a journal of your progress, feelings, thoughts, etc., but not about what you eat. The journal is just for you, not for others to read or judge. This is a safe place to be honest with yourself. The journal can also help you identify your “triggers” so that you can deal with them in the future.

•  Don’t let the scale run your life. Better yet, throw out the scale!

This website is not meant to substitute for expert medical advice or treatment. Follow your doctor’s or health care provider’s advice if it differs from what is given in this guide.


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