About This Condition
Eating disorders are complex conditions involving psychological factors and nutritional deficiencies. The term eating disorders includes anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge-eating.
The psychological factors may include an inability to cope with stress, problems with family and other relationships, feelings of deprivation, and experiences of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Psychotherapy is an essential part of the treatment for eating disorders, along with nutrition counseling and medical care as needed.1
A person with anorexia does not eat enough to maintain a healthy weight; she views herself as overweight and is anxious about gaining weight. Anorexia typically begins in early adolescence, mainly among girls, though the numbers of boys developing this condition is increasing. People with anorexia weigh less than 85% of the normal weight for their age and height. Excessive exercise, vomiting, and abuse of laxatives and/or diuretics may also occur. Severe anorexia can be life threatening.
Bulimia, also known as bingeing and purging, is more common than anorexia, and usually affects teenage girls and women in their twenties. It involves a recurring, emotionally driven cycle of compulsive consumption of large quantities of high-calorie food in a short period of time, followed by induced vomiting. Some individuals also use laxatives, drugs that induce vomiting, diuretics, or excessive exercise in an attempt to purge. About 50% of anorexics also purge, and both bulimia and anorexia can coexist in the same person.2 Unlike those with anorexia, some people affected by bulimia maintain normal or even excessive body weight.
Binge-eating disorder is similar to bulimia but no purging is done. It is more common than either bulimia or anorexia nervosa, and people with binge-eating disorder are usually overweight.3
People with eating disorders may have a preoccupation with weight and food, anxiety about their body image, and/or a feeling that they lose control over how much they eat. They may also exercise compulsively and, in women, experience missed menstrual periods. They may also frequently use laxatives, diet pills, and medicines designed to induce vomiting or reduce fluid retention.
Treatment for eating disorders also includes psychological counseling, such as cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal, psychodynamic, and family therapy.