Eating disorders are more than just overeating at Thanksgiving or occasionally skipping breakfast, an eating disorder is a behavioral illness that involves an unhealthy obsession with food and weight.

Overview of eating disorders

Eating disorders often manifests itself by people avoiding eating, expelling food following eating, or other extreme and dangerous eating behaviors. At any time more than 8 million people in the United States are struggling with an eating disorder, including every age, ethnicity, and gender. The overwhelming majority of sufferers (90 percent) are female. 

While eating disorders have dangerous impacts on an individuals health, they are primarily considered behavioral illnesses. Each individual’s eating disorder and attitude toward food is unique, however most eating disorders fall into one of three categories:

Anorexia nervosa

If you purposely restrict calorie intake to the point of starvation you may have anorexia nervosa. Anorexic individuals are consumed with body image and are driven to dangerously change their eating habits in a desire to be thin. Some only eat tiny amounts of food with few calories, while others may refuse to eat at all.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimics binge on huge quantities of food, then force themselves to vomit to prevent their body from processing the food and gaining weight. They may also exercise more than is healthy, and may even take laxatives to further rid their body of any calories they've eaten. 

Bulimics practice this destructive cycle of binging and purging, occasionally dieting between binges. Unlike anorexia sufferers, bulimics aren't necessarily extremely thin and may even seem to be of normal weight.

Binge-eating disorder

Eating disorders aren’t limited to conditions that avoid food, but also those that may involve too much food. Bing-eaters, also known as compulsive overeaters, eat excessive amounts of food without purging. They often eat uncontrollably even after feeling full. After a binge they feel guilty or ashamed, followed in some cases by extreme diets to compensate. Binge-eaters may be of normal weight, overweight, or obese. Bing-eating is the only eating disorder that affects both men and women equally.


Eating disorders can be overcome by calling upon caring, experienced medical professionals and behavioral health specialists. The first step to recovery is recognizing the symptoms, which may vary depending on the type of eating disorder. 

For anorexics, the symptoms include an obsession with food calories and fat content, changes in menstruation or loss of periods altogether, feeling cold, hair loss or growth on the body, and anxiety. 

Individuals with bulimia, on the other hand, may be seen eating large amounts of food at one time, often feeling out of control about their eating and other habits. They spend a lot of time alone or exercising, and may demonstrate depression and mood swings.

Binge-eating symptoms include eating rapidly, eating alone, and eating even when not hungry. If you observe these symptoms in yourself, friends, or family, consult with a medical professional.

Side effects

Physical side effects include bloating or abdominal pain, stained or chipped teeth resulting from frequent contact with stomach acids, and swollen or sore glands and throat.

© 2018 Intermountain Healthcare. All rights reserved. The content presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and it should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.
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Anorexia is an eating disorder marked by self-starvation and very low weight. Anorexia can lead to serious health problems such as heart or kidney failure.
A doctor speaks with his patient at her bedside.

Bulimia Nervosa

Find related articles and information about bulimia nervosa.