About Eating Disorders

What is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is an unhealthy preoccupation with food, weight, or appearance that interferes with everyday life. Disordered eating behaviors and eating disorders are not a choice, they develop due to a combination of an individuals genetics, social environment and psychological health.

Eating disorders can be treatable with the support of family and friends, a community, and a professional team of physicians, nutrition experts and psychologists.

Eating disorders have the second highest fatality rate of all mental illnesses, yet they remain widely misunderstood.  Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and their variants, consist of severe disturbances in eating behavior and weight management. They often coexist with other mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The consequences of eating disorders are serious and can be life-threatening. They include a range of conditions that involve an obsession with food, weight, and appearance.

 Para información en español – Un sitio web de inspiración, información, consejos y apoyo  – Alyssa Gutierrez

What kind of eating disorders are there?

There are many different terms to describe eating disorders, and it is important to know the diagnosis is not everything. Most individuals with eating disorders experience behaviors on a spectrum. Anyone who struggles with the relationship between their body and mind deserves support and help. Though eating disorders present differently for individuals, the pain and suffering of an eating disorder is inclusive for all.

Types of eating disorders include:

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (AN) involves severe restriction of food intake, leading to significantly low body weight (less than 85% of their ideal body weight based on age and height). A person suffering from AN has an intense fear of gaining weight, even when they have dangerously low body weight.  This person may also have a disturbed body image, meaning that they truly feel and believe they are overweight even when they are clearly underweight.  Someone with AN often evaluates his or herself based on their body image and may not recognize the seriousness of their condition.  People with AN often limit or restrict other parts of their lives besides food, including relationships, social activities, and pleasure.

There are two types of AN, restricting type and binge-eating/purging type.  A person with restricting type of AN does not engage in binge/purge behaviors.  Their weight loss is from severe restriction.  The binge-eating/purging type of AN involves recurrent episodes of binge eating and/or purging behavior (self-induced vomiting, misuse of diuretics, compulsive exercise laxatives, or enemas).

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa (BN) involves cycles of bingeing and then compensating for the intake.  Bingeing is the consumption of large amounts of food in a very short period of time. A person suffering from BN often doesn’t feel in control during the bingeing episode and most often will immediately engage in behaviors to compensate for the binge.  Dangerous behaviors include self-induced vomiting, misuse of diuretics, compulsive exercising laxatives, or enemas in order to prevent weight gain.  Similar to someone suffering from anorexia nervosa, someone with BN places a lot of emphasis on their body shape and weight for self-evaluation. Those suffering from BN seem to be at a higher risk for dangerous impulsive, self-destructive behaviors, such as self-harm, alcohol and/or drug abuse, and sexual promiscuity. Bulimia nervosa is different than the binge-eating/purge type of anorexia nervosa in a few ways. Someone struggling with BN does not restrict, is not necessarily underweight, and often recognizes there is a problem.

Binge Eating Disorder

The essential features of binge eating disorder (BED) are recurrent episodes of consuming abnormally large amounts of food and a sense of lack of control. Someone struggling with BED may eat whether they are hungry or not and consume food well past being uncomfortably full. They often feel extremely distressed by their eating behavior and may experience feelings of disgust and guilt both during and after bingeing. BED is different from bulimia nervosa as it does not involve compensatory behaviors.

Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder amongst all diagnoses and is often disregarded due to our culture’s weight-stigma. Binge eating disorder is just as dangerous as any other eating disorder. 

Avoidant and Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

Avoidant and Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) involves an extreme eating or feeding disturbance characterized by avoidant or restrictive behaviors regarding food that limits the caloric intake of the individual.  The limited caloric intake causes an inability for the individual to meet their nutritional requirements resulting in an inability to maintain a healthy weight or gain weight required for development (children/adolescents).  ARFID is primarily diagnosed in childhood or adolescence and individuals with ARFID are often thought of as extreme “picky eaters”.  However, individuals with ARFID are not the same as picky eaters or individuals going through a phase of selective eating because ARFID causes significant nutritional deficiencies and interferes with psychosocial functioning.  ARFID is similar to Anorexia Nervosa in terms of avoidant and restrictive behaviors although ARFID does not involve a fear of gaining weight or distorted body image.  There is not a singular cause of ARFID although ARFID can occur after a traumatic experience with food (choking) or other personal experiences.

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder

Many people suffer from disordered eating.  When those symptoms cause significant distress but do not meet the full criteria of an eating disorder mentioned above, they may still be diagnosed with an eating disorder.  Their health and well-being may be in danger and should seek help from a professional. Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) was formally changed in the DSM-6 to Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED).


Individuals with Diabetes Mellitus Type 1 (ED-DMT1) can struggle with an eating disorder called Diabulimia. Those who struggle with this eating disorder manipulate the usage of insulin needed by the body, in order to lose weight or change the appearance of their body. Diabulimia Helpline http://www.diabulimiahelpline.org/resources.html


An eating disorder term used to describe individuals who obsessively restrict their diet to what they deem to be a “health” food. The rigidity and obsessiveness of this eating disorder interrupts daily activities and physical health.