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Conditions InDepth: Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are serious disturbances in eating behavior, such as extreme and unhealthy reduction of food intake or severe overeating. They are accompanied by feelings of distress or excessive concern about body shape or weight. The main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.
Eating disorders often develop during adolescence or early adulthood, but some reports indicate they can start during childhood or later in adulthood. Females are much more likely than males to develop an eating disorder. Males make up an estimated 5%-15% of people with anorexia or bulimia, and an estimated 35% of those with binge eating disorder.
Eating disorders frequently occur with other psychiatric conditions, such as depression, substance abuse, and anxiety disorders. In addition, people with eating disorders can experience a range of physical health complications. While some of these are minor, others can cause serious heart conditions, kidney failure, and even death.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which you have an obsession with dieting and exercise, leading to excessive weight loss. You are generally considered to be anorexic when you do not maintain your body weight at or above 85% of your expected weight. An estimated 0.5%-3.7% of females suffer from anorexia nervosa at some point in their lifetime.
If you have bulimia nervosa, you feel overly concerned with your weight and body image. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which you compulsively eat large amounts of food. This is called binging. Then, you use unhealthy means (eg, vomiting, taking laxatives or water pills) to purge or rid your body of the food. You may also (or instead) diet vigorously or engage in extreme amounts of exercise to use up calories taken in through binging. An estimated 1.1%-4.2% of females have bulimia nervosa at some point in their lifetime.
Binge Eating Disorder
If you have binge eating disorder, you eat excessive amounts of food within a short period of time. Episodes of binge eating are associated with at least three of the following:
During an episode you feel a lack of control over your eating. On average, binge eating occurs at least two days a week for six months. You do not purge your body of the excess calories; therefore, you may be overweight for your age and height. During and after a binge, you feel self-disgust and shame, which can lead to another binge. Community surveys have estimated that between 2%-5% of Americans experience binge eating disorder in any six-month period.
• What are the risk factors for eating disorders? • What are the symptoms of eating disorders? • How are eating disorders diagnosed? • What are the treatments for eating disorders? • Are there screening tests for eating disorders? • How can I reduce my risk of eating disorders? • What questions should I ask my doctor? • What is it like to live with eating disorders? • Where can I get more information about eating disorders?
DynaMed Editorial Team. Anorexia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated October 21, 2010. Accessed November 12, 2010.
DynaMed Editorial Team. Bulimia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated July 12, 2010. Accessed November 12, 2010.
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. General information. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders website. Available at: http://www.anad.org/site/anadweb/content.php?type=1&id=6982 . Accessed April 8, 2007.
National Institute of Mental Health. Eating disorders: facts about eating disorders and the search for solutions. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/eatingdisorders.cfm . Accessed April 8, 2007.
Yager J, Devlin MJ, Halmi KA, et al. Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Eating Disorders. 3rd ed. American Psychiatric Association; 2006. Available at: http://www.psych.o... . Accessed April 8, 2007.
Last reviewed October 2012 by Michael Woods, MD
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