Eating disorders are a group of conditions characterized by an unhealthy relationship with food. They can include severe overeating or not consuming enough food to stay healthy. They also involve extreme concern about body shape or weight.
Eating disorders tend to develop during the teenage and young adult years, and are much more common in girls and women. The cause of eating disorders is not clear, but they seem to be linked to psychological and medical issues such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, trouble coping with emotions, and substance abuse.
It’s common for people with eating disorders to hide their unhealthy behaviors, so it can be difficult to recognize the signs of an eating disorder, especially early on.
Types of eating disorders include:
- Anorexia nervosa, in which people become too thin, but don’t eat enough because they perceive themselves as fat
- Bulimia nervosa, which involves periods of overeating followed by purging, sometimes through self-induced vomiting or using laxatives
- Binge-eating, which is out-of-control eating
For some people, a preoccupation with food becomes a way to feel in control over one aspect of their lives. Although it may start out as simply eating a bit more or less than usual, the behavior can spiral out of control and take over the person’s life. Eating disorders are serious medical conditions that can have long-term health consequences, such as heart and kidney problems, if left untreated. Getting help early is important. Treatment involves monitoring, talk therapy, nutritional counseling, and, in some cases, medications.