What Is an Eating Disorder?

Last Updated Sep 10, 2019

According to the Butterfly Foundation, eating disorders are "highly complex and serious mental and physical illnesses" that can affect people of all ages. It’s a distressing fact that eating disorders have increased significantly in the past decade. In this article we take a closer look at eating disorders.

Eating Disorders Explained

Eating disorders take control over a person’s eating, body shape, weight, exercise routine, self-esteem and body perception. Often, sufferers develop eating disorders when trying to cope with untreated psychological or emotional issues.

Around 2 to 3 per cent of the population has an eating disorder and while it tends to affect women, many men go undiagnosed.

Types of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia nervosa: the person uses starvation and sometimes purging to lose weight.
  • Bulimia nervosa: this involves cycles of bingeing on food and then purging.  Laxatives, enemas or self-induced vomiting may be used to purge food.
  • Binge eating disorders: this involves eating excessively, without purging.
  • Unspecified eating disorders: Eating disorders that do not fit the above criteria are known as Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS).

Who Can Get an Eating Disorder?

The unfortunate truth is that anyone can develop an eating disorder. While many people mistakenly think it only affects adolescents, a recent study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that 62 per cent of women aged 50 and over said their weight "negatively impacted" their lives.

The Warning Signs

A person who experiences the below symptoms may be at risk of developing an eating disorder:

  • Rapid weight loss or gain
  • Poor circulation
  • Digestive problems such as constipation and bloating
  • Fainting or dehydration
  • Declined dental health
  • Changes in eating habits and patterns
  • Constant dieting
  • Visiting the bathroom after eating
  • Isolation and avoiding social situations
  • Obsessive food-related thoughts
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Self-harm
  • Suicide attempts

It’s an alarming fact that the suicide rate for people with anorexia is a staggering 32 per cent higher than average. That’s why it’s imperative to immediately seek professional help if you, or someone you know, is experiencing the above symptoms.

Since many people who have an eating disorder also experience depression, consulting a counsellor may also bring relief and support.

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Originally published on Jul 24, 2013

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