Eating disorder is a term used to describe illnesses characterized by a disturbance in attitudes and behaviors relating to eating, body weight, and body image. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa (commonly referred to as bulimia), binge-eating disorder (BED), and eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS).
People with anorexia nervosa are underweight and usually restrict their eating. Many have severe weight loss. Individuals with bulimia nervosa and BED experience periods of overeating called binges. But bulimia nervosa is always associated with attempts to neutralize excessive caloric intake, usually by vomiting. EDNOS refers to any eating disorder that has prominent eating or body image symptoms that are different from the usual symptoms of anorexia nervosa or bulimia or that has most, but not all, of their defining symptoms. Another pattern of disordered eating is night eating syndrome (NES), which is characterized by abnormal overeating at night.
Eating disorders can cause serious medical complications, including osteoporosis and irregular heartbeat. They can even cause death. Eating disorders are far more common in women than in men. They typically begin in the teen-age years or early 20’s, but they can also occur in childhood and at older ages. They are more common in industrialized nations and in urban areas of the world. However, eating disorders occur across all ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Researchers suggest that social pressure to be thin contributes to the development of eating disorders. But most agree that psychological, social, cultural, and genetic factors all contribute to a person’s risk.
Health professionals consider eating disorders to be mental illnesses. Individuals with eating disorders are often unwilling to seek or accept treatment, and signs of these illnesses can be difficult to detect. Physicians and others who treat eating disorders attend to the medical, nutritional, and psychological dimensions of the disorder. Treatment focuses on addressing the psychological aspects of the illness through psychotherapy. Drug therapy is also effective, especially for treating bulimia and BED.