Eating disorders are a group of mental disorders defined by abnormal eating habits that negatively affect a person’s physical or mental health, and are the result of distressing thoughts and emotions. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and unspecified eating disorder.
Did You Know?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, eating disorders affect approximately 5% of the population. Most of these disorders develop during adolescence and primarily affect women, however people of any age and gender can be affected.
Anorexia nervosa is defined by an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, despite being underweight. Consequently, an individual affected by anorexia will restrict their caloric intake, avoid certain types of foods, and constantly monitor their weight. They may engage in purging but their low weight distinguishes them for those with bulimia. Individuals with anorexia nervosa have extremely high mortality rates due to the many physical effects of starvation.
Bulimia nervosa is defined by periods of binging and purging. During a binging period, the individual will eat unusually large amounts of food. Then, during a purging period an individual will engage in forced vomiting, fasting, excessive exercise, or the use of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas to purge the excess calories. Individuals with bulimia are not underweight by definition.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is defined by periods of binging without purging.
Unspecified Eating Disorder
Unspecified Eating Disorder is a term used to classify individuals whose symptoms align with one or more of the characteristics of an eating disorder (e.g., inappropriate control of weight), but do not meet the full diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder.
Median Age of Onset
The following statistics are based on diagnostic interview data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (2007).
- Anorexia nervosa: 18 years old
- Bulimia nervosa: 18 years old
- Binge eating disorder: 21 years old
Frequently Asked Questions:
Symptoms of an eating disorder can include:
- Frequent denial of hunger
- Extreme concern with being thin or being perceived as thin, even when underweight
- Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance
- Inability to recognize how severe their low weight has become or refusal to acknowledge it
- Obsessive and rigid exercise routine
- Frequent dieting or fasting
- Binge eating and purging
- Excessive exercise beyond what is required for typical fitness or weight loss
- Frequent calorie counting despite low weight
It is important to note that symptoms can vary depending on the specific diagnosis and not all symptoms of eating disorders are listed above. Psychiatrists can accurately diagnose an eating disorder, so if you or a loved one are showing symptoms, schedule a consultation with our physicians at Florida Family Psychiatry today.
There is no single test to diagnose eating disorders. Instead, an eating disorder is diagnosed after a physical exam, discussion of your medical history, a review of symptoms, and ruling out other conditions that cause similar physical symptoms. You will likely be asked to fill out a self-assessment and/or answer specific questions about your eating habits and body image so that your physician can give you an accurate diagnosis.
In most cases, a combination of nutrition education, talk therapy, and medication is recommended. Nutrition education allows individuals to learn healthy eating habits. Talk therapy can help change thoughts and behaviors contributing to an eating disorder and teaches individuals how to establish and practice healthier habits. Finally, medication is generally used to balance brain chemicals that affect mood and emotions in order to help control the urges to binge and/or purge, and to decrease the excessive preoccupation with food.
If you need immediate help, text NATIONAL EATING DISORDERS ASSOCIATION’s crisis text line – text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer
Some of the content of this Florida Family Psychiatry (FFP) webpage were sourced from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the National Institute of Mental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and their affiliates. The content on this page should be used for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. FFP has made every attempt to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the content on this website. However, the information is provided “as is” without warranty of any kind.
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