Eating Disorders

Learning Objectives

  • Describe eating disorders

Eating disorders are mental health illnesses that involve emotional and behavioral disturbance surrounding weight and food issues. The most common are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Eating disorders can have life-threatening consequences.

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Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation and extreme weight loss either through restriction or through binge-purging. This may frequently be a result of body dysmorphic disorder (a condition in which someone feels that their body looks differently than it actually does) or a result of other psychiatric complications such as OCD or depression. Starvation can cause harm to vital organs such as the heart and brain, can cause nails, hair, and bones to become brittle, and can make the skin dry and sometimes yellow or covered with soft hair. Menstrual periods can become irregular or stop completely.

People with bulimia nervosa eat large amounts of food (also called bingeing) at least two times a week and then vomit (also called purging) or exercise compulsively. Because many people who “binge and purge” maintain their body weight, they may keep their problem a secret for years. Vomiting can cause loss of important minerals, life-threatening heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), damage to the teeth, and swelling of the throat. Bulimia can also cause irregular menstrual periods.

People who binge without purging also have a disorder called binge eating disorder. This is frequently associated with feelings of loss of control and shame surrounding eating. People who are diagnosed with this disorder tend to gain weight, and many will have all of the consequences of being overweight, including high blood pressure and other cardiac symptoms, diabetes, and musculoskeletal complaints.

If you think you might have an eating disorder, you should go to the student health center or counseling center and get help. Talk with your family and close friends. Going for help and talking to others about your feelings and illness can be very difficult, but it’s the only way that you’re going to get better. Many colleges have treatment programs for these conditions and trained counselors who can relate to people with an eating disorder.


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