Eating disorders are a range of psychological conditions that cause unhealthy eating habits to develop. They might start with an obsession with food, body weight, or body shape.
In severe cases, eating disorders can cause serious health consequences and may even result in death if left untreated. In fact, eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, second to opioid overdose.
People with eating disorders can have a variety of symptoms. Common symptoms include severe restriction of food, food binges, and purging behaviors like vomiting or overexercising.
Although eating disorders can affect people of any gender at any life stage, they’re increasingly common in men and gender nonconforming people. These populations often seek treatment at lower rates or may not report their eating disorder symptoms at all.
What are the signs of an eating disorder?
Different types of eating disorders have different symptoms, but each condition involves an extreme focus on issues related to food and eating, and some involve an extreme focus on weight.
This preoccupation with food and weight may make it hard to focus on other aspects of life.
Mental and behavioral signs may include:
- dramatic weight loss
- concern about eating in public
- preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams, or dieting
- complaints of constipation, cold intolerance, abdominal pain, lethargy, or excess energy
- excuses to avoid mealtime
- intense fear of weight gain or being “fat”
- dressing in layers to hide weight loss or stay warm
- severely limiting and restricting the amount and types of food consumed
- refusing to eat certain foods
- denying feeling hungry
- expressing a need to “burn off” calories
- repeatedly weighing oneself
- patterns of binge eating and purging
- developing rituals around food
- excessively exercising
- cooking meals for others without eating
- missing menstrual periods (in people who would typically menstruate)
What causes eating disorders?
Experts believe that a variety of factors may contribute to eating disorders.
One of these is genetics. People who have a sibling or parent with an eating disorder seem to be at an increased risk of developing one.
Personality traits are another factor. In particular, neuroticism, perfectionism, and impulsivity are three personality traits often linked to a higher risk of developing an eating disorder, according to a 2015 research review.
Other potential causes include perceived pressures to be thin, cultural preferences for thinness, and exposure to media promoting these ideals.
More recently, experts have proposed that differences in brain structure and biology may also play a role in the development of eating disorders. In particular, levels of the brain messaging chemicals serotonin and dopamine may be factors.
However, more studies are needed before strong conclusions can be made.
How do you get over an eating disorder?
- Reach out for support
- Choose the right time and place. There are no hard and fast rules for telling someone about your eating disorder. …
- Starting the conversation. …
- Be patient. …
- Be specific about how the person can best support you. …
- Individual or group therapy. …
- Family therapy. …
- Nutritional counseling. …