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Staying Healthy: All About Eating Disorders

Eating disorders involve disturbances of eating behaviors, which can range from minimal to severe. As these disturbed eating behaviors unfold, a person may experience significant psychological obsessions with food, body image, and weight. Weight loss may be a physical symptom of an eating disorder with severe caloric restrictions, excessive exercise, or purging behavior, such as forced vomiting. However, not all eating disorders result in weight loss. Eating disorders fall into a number of different categories, depending on the behaviors involved. Several different causes may contribute to these behaviors.

Biological Causes

Physical or biological factors could contribute to eating disorders. These physical causes can include genetics, with eating disorders occurring more often in some families. Imbalances in brain chemicals responsible for regulating hunger and digestion could also be a cause of eating disorders. Even a person’s immune system could be a factor in the development of an eating disorder. A compromised immune system could interfere with the body’s ability to maintain body weight and control eating.

Psychological Causes

A number of psychological illnesses or issues could contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Someone experiencing anxiety or depression could be more likely to have problems with an eating disorder. People who struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder could also be more likely to have eating disorders. Other psychological issues, such as low self-esteem, impulsivity, and perfectionism might also lay the foundation for the development of an eating disorder.

Social/Environmental Causes

Society can have a negative influence on some people, contributing to issues with eating. Dissatisfaction with body shape and weight is common for many people, especially adolescents. A strong desire to be thin and beautiful fuels the actions of many young people, and current culture supports this drive. This over-emphasis of appearance may be a factor in the development of eating disorders. Some people also experience negative parental or peer influence that leads to issues with eating. A difficult childhood or abusive situations might also contribute to the development of an eating disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa involves a sustained and drastic reduction of body weight and the inability to maintain a weight within 15 percent of one’s ideal body weight. A person with anorexia usually shows a severe fear of weight gain and may feel overweight, regardless of weight loss and actual weight. Denial of a problem is common with this issue, and more females develop this eating disorder than males. Low body weight can lead to serious health issues associated with malnutrition.

Bulimia Nervosa

A person afflicted with bulimia nervosa generally engages in cycles of binging on large amounts of food and purging to eliminate the food from the body. Purging might involve self-induced vomiting, using laxatives, or taking diuretics. This disorder may also involve excessive exercise regimens to burn off unwanted calories. Body image is typically an obsession of someone afflicted with this eating disorder. Weight loss could occur, but bulimics may also maintain a normal weight.

Binge Eating

A binge eating disorder involves recurring episodes of eating a large amount of food in a short amount of time. A person struggling with this disorder tends to feel out of control and powerless to stop the binging. It’s typical for a person to eat in secrecy, hiding the behavior from others. Generally, the binge cycles occur about once each week, and the binging results in both psychological and physical problems.


Habitual overeating is another type of eating disorder. This type of disorder tends to result in obesity. Overeating can be a physical response to anger, sadness, or anxiety, as a person turns to food as a way of coping with difficult emotions. Instead of eating to satisfy hunger, the person eats to soothe uncomfortable feelings. Unfortunately, this maladaptive eating causes other problems, both emotionally and physically. Guilt and remorse can be debilitating emotionally, while a host of physical problems can accompany obesity.

EDNOS – Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified

Sometimes symptoms and behaviors don’t fit perfectly into the various eating disorder criteria. When this happens, a physician may diagnose a patient with an eating disorder not otherwise specified, or “EDNOS.” For example, one common reason for an EDNOS diagnosis would be if a patient has all of the symptoms of anorexia, but she still has her periods regularly. Another situation that could result in an EDNOS diagnosis would be if a person exhibiting bulimic behavior does not engage in the binging and purging at least once per week. EDNOS is no less serious than other eating disorders. A person with EDNOS can have the same serious eating behaviors and symptoms as someone with a different eating disorder diagnosis.


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