Eating Disorders - Symptoms and Causes (2023)


Eating disorders are serious medical conditions associated with persistent eating behaviors that negatively affect your health, your emotions, and your ability to function in important areas of your life. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

Most eating disorders cause you to focus too much on your weight, body shape, and diet, leading to unsafe eating behaviors. These behaviors can significantly affect your body's ability to eat properly. Eating disorders can damage the heart, digestive system, bones, teeth, and mouth, and lead to other diseases.

Eating disorders often develop in adolescence and early adulthood, although they can develop at other ages as well. With treatment, you can return to healthier eating habits and sometimes reverse serious complications caused by the eating disorder.


Symptoms vary depending on the type of eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most common eating disorders. Other eating disorders include rumination disorder and avoidant/restrictive eating disorder.


Anorexia nervosa, often called simply anorexia, is a life-threatening eating disorder characterized by abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted perception of weight or shape. People with anorexia go to great lengths to control their weight and shape, which often significantly affects their health and daily activities.

If you suffer from anorexia, excessively restrict your calorie intake or use other methods to lose weight, such as exercise. B. Excessive exercise, use of laxatives or dietary aids, or vomiting after eating. Efforts to lose weight, even if you are underweight, can cause serious health problems, sometimes to the point of starvation.


Bulimia (boo-LEE-me-uh) nervosa, commonly known as bulimia, is a serious and life-threatening eating disorder. When you have bulimia, you have binge-purge episodes where you feel like you're losing control of your eating. Many bulimic patients also restrict their eating habits during the day, which often leads to more binge eating and exhaustion.

During these episodes, you typically eat a large amount of food in a short period of time and then try to get rid of the extra calories in unhealthy ways. Due to guilt, shame, and an intense fear of gaining weight from overeating, you may force yourself to vomit or exercise too much or use other methods such as laxatives to get rid of calories.

If you suffer from bulimia, you are likely concerned about your weight and body shape, and you may judge yourself harshly and harshly for perceived flaws in yourself. They may be normal weight or even slightly overweight.

Binge eating disorder

When you have binge eating disorder, you regularly overeat (binge) and feel a lack of control over your eating. He may eat quickly or eat more than he intended to, even when not hungry, and may continue to eat long after feeling uncomfortably full.

After binge eating, you may feel guilty, disgusted, or ashamed of your behavior and the amount of food you eat. But don't try to compensate for this behavior with excessive exercise or exhaustion, as someone with bulimia or anorexia might. Shame can lead you to eat just to hide your binges.

A new round of binge eating usually occurs at least once a week. They may be normal weight, overweight or obese.

rumination disorder

Rumination disorder is repeated and persistent vomiting of food after eating, but is not due to a medical condition or another eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. Food is placed back in the mouth without gagging or retching, and the belching may not be intentional. Sometimes the vomited food is chewed again and swallowed again or spit out.

The disorder can lead to malnutrition if food is spit out or if the person eats significantly less to prevent the behavior. The onset of rumination disorder may be more frequent in childhood or in people with intellectual disabilities.

Avoidant/restrictive eating disorder

This disorder is characterized by not meeting the minimum daily nutritional needs due to lack of interest in food; They avoid foods with certain sensory attributes, such as color, texture, smell, or taste; or worried about the consequences of eating, such as B. Fear of suffocation. Food is not avoided for fear of gaining weight.

The disorder can result in significant weight loss or lack of weight gain in childhood, as well as nutritional deficiencies that can cause health problems.

when to the doctor

An eating disorder can be difficult to manage or overcome on your own. Eating disorders can practically take over your life. If you have any of these problems or think you may have an eating disorder, see a doctor.

Urge a loved one to seek treatment

Unfortunately, many people with eating disorders do not believe they need treatment. If you are worried about a loved one, ask them to talk to a doctor. Even if your loved one is not willing to admit that they have an eating problem, you can open the door by expressing your concern and willingness to listen.

Be aware of eating habits and beliefs that can indicate unhealthy behavior, as well as peer pressure that can trigger eating disorders. Warning signs that may indicate an eating disorder include:

  • Skipping meals or finding excuses not to eat
  • Adopting an overly restrictive vegetarian diet
  • Focusing too much on healthy eating
  • Cook your own meals instead of eating what the family eats
  • Withdrawal from normal social activities.
  • Persistent worry or complaints about being fat and talking about weight loss
  • Frequently check in the mirror for perceived flaws
  • Repeatedly eating large amounts of sweets or high-fat foods.
  • Use of dietary supplements, laxatives, or herbal products for weight loss
  • excessive exercise
  • Knuckle Calluses That Cause Vomiting
  • Problems with tooth enamel loss, which can be a sign of repeated vomiting
  • Leaving during meals to go to the bathroom
  • Eating much more food at a meal or snack than usual
  • Expressing depression, disgust, shame, or guilt about eating habits.
  • secretly eat

If you are concerned that your child may have an eating disorder, please contact your doctor to discuss your concerns. If necessary, you can get a referral to a qualified psychologist with experience in eating disorders, or you can contact an expert directly if your insurance allows it.

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The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. As with other mental illnesses, there can be many causes, such as:

  • genetics and biology.Certain people may have genes that increase the risk of developing eating disorders. Biological factors, such as changes in brain chemicals, may play a role in eating disorders.
  • Mental and Emotional Health.People with eating disorders may have psychological and emotional problems that contribute to the disorder. They may have low self-esteem, perfectionism, impulsive behavior, and troubled relationships.

risk factor's

Teenage girls and young women are more likely than teenage boys and young men to experience anorexia or bulimia, but men can also experience eating disorders. Although eating disorders can present in a wide range of ages, they often develop in the teens and early 20s.

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing an eating disorder, including:

  • Family history.Eating disorders are significantly more common in people whose parents or siblings had an eating disorder.
  • Other mental disorders.People with an eating disorder often have a history of anxiety disorders, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • diet and hungerDieting is a risk factor for developing an eating disorder. Hunger affects the brain, affecting mood swings, rigid thinking, anxiety, and loss of appetite. There is strong evidence that many of the symptoms of an eating disorder are actually symptoms of starvation. Hunger and weight loss can alter brain function in people at risk, which can perpetuate restrictive eating patterns and make it difficult to return to normal eating habits.
  • To emphasize.Whether it's going to college, moving house, getting a new job, or a family or relationship problem, change can create stress, which can increase your risk of developing an eating disorder.


Eating disorders cause a variety of complications, some of which are life-threatening. The more severe or long-lasting the eating disorder, the more likely you are to experience serious complications, such as:

  • serious health problems
  • depression and anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Problems with growth and development.
  • Social and relationship problems.
  • substance use disorders
  • problems at work and school
  • tod


While there is no sure way to prevent eating disorders, here are some strategies to help your child develop healthy eating habits:

  • Avoid dieting around your child.Eating habits in the family can affect the relationship that children develop with food. Eating together gives you the opportunity to teach your child about the dangers of dieting and encourages a balanced diet in reasonable portions.
  • Talk to your child.For example, there are numerous websites that promote dangerous ideas such as: B. the view that anorexia is a lifestyle choice rather than an eating disorder. It's important to correct these misconceptions and talk to your child about the risks of an unhealthy diet.
  • Cultivate and strengthen a healthy body imageon your child, regardless of their shape or size. Talk to your child about his self-image and reassure him that body shapes can vary. Avoid criticizing your own body in front of your child. Messages of acceptance and respect can help build healthy self-esteem and resilience that will help children through the difficult times of adolescence.
  • Ask your child's doctor for help.Well-child doctor visits can identify early indicators of an eating disorder. For example, during routine doctor visits, you can ask children questions about their eating habits and how satisfied they are with their appearance. These visits should include checks of height and weight percentiles and body mass index, which can alert you and your child's doctor to significant changes.

If you notice a family member or friend showing signs of an eating disorder, you should talk to that person about your concerns for their well-being. While you may not be able to prevent an eating disorder from developing, reaching out to them compassionately can encourage them to seek treatment.

By Mayo Clinic staff

February 22, 2018


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