Eating disorders are an incredibly complex psychological disorders which present with a number of different signs and symptoms. They usually develop in adolescence however can effect men or women throughout their lives, presenting at any time. Eating Disorders can effect anyone; male, female, young and old, different ethnic groups and income levels.

It is thought that eating disorders are caused due to a specific culmination of pre-existing traits or conditions and exacerbated by environmental stressors. No 2 eating disorder stories are the same, although the disorder’s present with the same set of symptoms the causes are incredibly vast.

It is important to remember that you can not tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. Eating disorders are very dangerous regardless of the weight of the sufferer and should be treated appropriately.

Although all eating disorders generally revolve around an obsession with food, weight and shape, there are a number of different types of eating disorders depending on the specific set of symptoms present within the sufferer.

Anorexia Nervosa (AN)

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder marked by weight loss, excessive dieting, a distorted body image and fear of weight gain. It is estimated that 1/10 sufferers will die of their condition (most commonly of cardiac events) and has the highest morbidity rate of all psychological disorders.

  • Restricting Subtype describes a person who restricts their caloric intake to dangerously low levels in an attempt to lose weight.
  • Purging Subtype is similar to the restricting subtype except the sufferer also engages in purging behaviours such as vomiting, over-exercising and excessive laxative use. Binging may also be present but is not a requirement.

Bulimia Nervosa (BN)

Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder that forces sufferers to binge and purge, often in pursuit of an ideal body image. A binge is when a person eats more than an appropriate amount of food given the circumstances, usually over a small period of time regardless of internal hunger and satiety cues. There is a deep sense of loss of control over eating accompanied by feelings of guilt and shame. Bulimics often turn to purging as a way to “fix” the binge through vomiting, laxative abuse, over-exercising or restricting. Bulimia is an especially dangerous disorder because of the electrolyte imbalances caused by purging. These imbalances can cause cardiac events and a person can be at any weight to experience a heart attack or other lethal side effects such as a ruptured esophagus. These lethal side effects can occur during or after any incidence of binging and purging.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Binge eating disorder is very similar to Bulimia Nervosa, with the absence of purging behaviours. A sufferer often eats significantly more food in a short period of time than most people would eat under similar circumstances. The person likely feels a loss of control during these episodes as well as feelings of guilt and shame.

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (ED-NOS)

Eating Disorders not Otherwise Specified is almost like a catch-all of diagnoses. If a person suffers from clearly distorted eating habits and obsesses over weight and shape but does not quite fit into any of the defined eating disorder types, they are given this diagnosis.


If you are worried that someone you know may be developing an eating disorder, please keep a look out for the symptoms listed on this webpage. Visit my tips for supporters page for my suggestions.

For more on my definitions of the symptoms of eating disorders please take a look at the following articles. Re-Defining Eating Disorder Symptoms (Primary Symptoms) reflects on the “classic” symptoms of eating disorders; binging, restricting and purging. Redefining Eating Disorder Symptoms (Secondary Symptoms) takes a closer look at the secondary symptoms of eating disorders, or how the eating disorder hangs on to it’s victims even after the classic symptoms are under control.

For specific facts and statistics about Eating Disorders, please visit NEDIC’s website.

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