Eating Disorders

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are serious medical illnesses marked by severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors. Obsessions with food, body weight, and shape may be signs of an eating disorder. These disorders can affect a person’s physical and mental health; in some cases, they can be life-threatening. But eating disorders can be treated. Learning more about them can help you spot the warning signs and seek treatment early.

Remember: Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice. They are biologically-influenced medical illnesses.

Who is at risk for eating disorders?

Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, racial/ethnic backgrounds, body weights, and genders. Although eating disorders often appear during the teen years or young adulthood, they may also develop during childhood or later in life (40 years and older).

Remember: People with eating disorders may appear healthy, yet be extremely ill.

The exact cause of eating disorders is not fully understood, but research suggests a combination of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors can raise a person’s risk.

What are the common types of eating disorders?

Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder

How are eating disorders treated?

It is important to seek treatment early for eating disorders. People with eating disorders are at higher risk for suicide and medical complications. Some people with eating disorders may also have other mental disorders (such as depression or anxiety) or problems with substance use.

Treatment plans for eating disorders may include: psychotherapy, medical care and monitoring, nutritional counseling, medications, or a combination of these approaches. Typical treatment goals include restoring adequate nutrition, bringing weight to a healthy level, reducing excessive exercise, and stopping binge-purge and binge-eating behaviors. Complete recovery is possible.

Specific forms of psychotherapy (or “talk therapy”) and cognitive behavioral approaches can be effective for treating specific eating disorders. 

Additional Resources

Eating Disorders

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

Please remember this information is intended for educational purposes only and should not substitute medical advice from a healthcare provider.