Disordered Eating

Disordered eating is a mental and physical illness that can affect any age group, sex, gender, race, or ethnicity. This illness causes disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors and can be fatal. What causes a person to have disordered eating is still unknown; however, there is a consensus that it is a range of biological, psychological, and socio-cultural factors.

Anorexia nervosa

People with this illness may see themselves as overweight, even when they are extremely underweight. They often restrict food intake to try to gain their “ideal” body. Keep in mind that a person does not have to appear underweight or emaciated to have this illness. Common symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Extreme thinning and restricted eating
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted body image
  • Lethargy
  • Thinning of bones
  • Dry and yellowish skin

Bulimia nervosa

People with this illness may have frequent episodes of eating large amounts of food accompanied by a lack of control. After these binge-eating episodes, they may force themselves to vomit, use laxatives in excessive ways, or a combination of both. Unlike anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia nervosa usually maintain a healthy weight. Common warning signs and symptoms include:

  • A fear of eating in public
  • Disappearing after meals
  • Steals or hoards food
  • Discoloration of teeth from forced vomiting
  • Always concerned with their body
  • Dry skin
  • Chronically inflamed and sore throat

Binge-eating disorder

Unlike bulimia nervosa, people who binge eat do not purge afterwards. This means that people with this illness are often overweight. Symptoms and warning signs include:

  • Eating large amounts of food in a specific amount of time
  • Eating when full or not hungry
  • Eating in secret out of fear of embarrassment
  • Frequently dieting with no success


Treatments are tailored to the person’s specific needs which may include psychotherapy, medical care and monitoring, nutritional counseling, or medications.

—Nayla Mitchell

Source:  NEDA,  National Institute of Mental Health