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Eating Disorders

The three main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

People who suffer from anorexia have an intense fear of gaining weight. They severely limit the amount of food they eat and often, though not always, weigh much less than is healthy and normal. Someone suffering from anorexia thinks about food, dieting, and weight all of the time. They often think they are overweight even when they are very thin. They strictly limit how much they eat and may exercise a lot, vomit or use laxatives to avoid weight gain. Those who’ve already dropped below their normal weight may notice symptoms of hair loss, constipation, lower body temperature (cold all the time), irritability, reduced energy and fatigue, and ceased menstruation for females. People who have anorexia often deny that they have a problem. It's usually up to their loved ones to get them help.

Bulimia is characterized by a cycle of binging and purging. People who have bulimia harshly judge their body weight and shape and cope with these feelings by following a strict diet. Over time the hunger from the strict diet triggers a binge, defined as eating a large amount of food in a short period of time. After binge eating, they feel out of control, ashamed, guilty, and afraid of gaining weight. This distress causes them to purge, or engage in a compensatory activity to get rid of the food, such as induced vomiting, exercising or using medicines such as laxatives. People who have bulimia may not be excessively thin. They may binge in secret and deny that they are purging. Signs one might look for: A person goes to the bathroom right after meals, is secretive about eating, hides food, exercises a lot, often talks about dieting, weight, and body shape, uses laxatives or diuretics often, has teeth marks or calluses on the back of the hands (caused by induced vomiting).

A person with a binge eating disorder (BED) binge eats regularly for several months. This is different from bulimia in that those suffering from binge eating disorder don't purge after they binge. However, they may try to limit how much food they eat between binges. People who binge eat may be of normal body weight, but over time they gain weight and suffer from obesity. They binge eat on a regular basis, eat when they are not hungry, eat for emotional reasons (i.e., when sad, angry, lonely, or bored), feel like they can't stop eating, eat so much that they feel painfully full, and eat alone because they are embarrassed about how much they eat. Risk for binge eating disorder increases for those whose parents are overweight, if they or their parents have had symptoms of depression, for those with a poor body image, and for those who were often told negative things about their weight, eating habits, and how their body looks.

Eating disorders usually start in the teen years, though are increasingly affecting pre-teens, and affect both males and females. Eating disorders are complex. Current working knowledge is that these disorders result from a mix of genetics, family behaviors, social factors, and personality traits. Someone may be more likely to develop an eating disorder if other people in the family have an eating disorder. Additionally, they are at greater risk if they are the type of person who tries to be perfect all the time, never feels good enough, or worries a lot. Cultural attitudes about body shape and weight might also play a role in eating disorders.

Untreated eating disorders can lead to serious health problems such as osteoporosis, kidney damage, heart problems, and even death. Having an eating disorder is not something you can overcome with just willpower; you will need support to get better. If you or someone you know shows even just a few signs of an eating disorder, reach out to a professional right away. The longer this problem goes on, the harder it is to overcome. The earlier eating disorders are treated, the better the chance for recovery.