Body Image and Eating Awareness Team

What is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is when someone has a preoccupation about how they look and what they eat, and spends a significant amount of time focusing on food, weight, and body. In fact, many people with eating disorders focus almost always on food, weight, or their body.

Eating disorders can have many health complications (e.g., reduction of bone density, tooth decay, electrolyte imbalances, changes in heart rate, fatigue, dehydration, dry hair and skin), and frequently cause interpersonal issues as well (e.g., isolation from friends due to focus on food, shame, etc.).  Eating disorders can impact academic performance, as a strong focus on body and food is present and a lack of nutrition or metabolic imbalances may cause struggles with concentration.  Someone with an eating disorder may also spend so much time focusing on weight and body that they might not have time to study or spend time with friends.  Importantly… eating disorders are the most lethal of all mental health disorders (Harris & Barraclough, 1998).

Please be aware that eating and body image concerns can be problematic and cause significant illness, even if someone does not meet the criteria for one of the specific eating disorders listed below.  The following descriptions are for educational and informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for individual medical or mental health advice.

There are three types of eating disorders (DSM-5, 2013):

  • Anorexia Nervosa
    • Inadequate food intake leading to a significantly low body weight
    • Intense fear of weight gain, or persistent behaviors to prevent weight gain
    • Unable to see one’s body accurate (i.e., distorted view), putting a significant amount of importance of how one’s body looks when determining self-worth, or not recognizing the seriousness of the situation
    • Two types
      • Binge-eating/purging – Recurrent episodes of binge eating or purging behaviors (i.e., self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, enemas) occur
      • Restricting – No binge eating or purging behaviors
  • Bulimia Nervosa
    • Recurrent episodes of binge eating, in which an amount of food definitely larger than most individuals would eat in a similar setting and similar timeframe is consumed, and the person feels out of control while eating
    • Binge eating is followed by behaviors to prevent weight gain (e.g., self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise)
    • Intense fear of weight gain, or persistent behaviors to prevent weight gain
  • Binge-Eating Disorder
    • Recurrent episodes of binge eating occur, in which a person may eat more rapidly than normal, feel uncomfortably full, eat large amounts when not hungry, eat alone out of embarrassment, or feel disgusted, depressed, or guilty afterwards
    • Episodes cause significant distress
  • Other DSM-5 (2013) Feeding and Eating Disorders
    • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
    • Pica
    • Rumination Disorder
    • Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder


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