Eating Disorders | Overview

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What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is an obsession with food and weight that harms a person's well-being. Although we all worry about our weight sometimes, people who have an eating disorder go to extremes to keep from gaining weight. There are 2 main eating disorders: anorexia nervosa and bulimia.

What is anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is an illness that usually occurs in teenage girls, but it also can occur in teenage boys, and in adult women and men. People who have anorexia are obsessed with being thin. They don't want to eat, and they are afraid of gaining weight. They may constantly worry about how many calories they take in or how much fat is in their food. They may take diet pills, laxatives or water pills to lose weight. They may exercise too much. People who have anorexia usually think they're fat even though they're very thin. They may get so thin that they look like they're sick. Anorexia isn't just a problem with food or weight. It's an attempt to use food and weight to deal with emotional problems.

What is bulimia?

Bulimia is eating a lot of food at once (called bingeing), and then throwing up or using laxatives to remove the food from the body (called purging). After a binge, some bulimics fast (don't eat) or overexercise to keep from gaining weight. People who have bulimia may also use water pills, laxatives or diet pills to "control" their weight. People who have bulimia often try to hide their bingeing and purging. They may hide food for binges. People who have bulimia are usually close to normal weight, but their weight may go up and down.

Did you know?

  • 8,000,000 or more people in the United States have an eating disorder.
  • 90% are women.
  • Victims may be rich or poor.
  • Eating disorders usually start in the teens but may begin as early as age 8.

Source: National Association of Anorexia 

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 02/14
Created: 01/98

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