Information and Resources

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders involve a preoccupation with food, weight and shape. Anorexia Nervosa is marked by restrictive eating, a distorted body image, and an unrealistic fear of weight gain, along with achieving a dangerously low weight and a cessation of menstrual periods. Bulimia Nervosa is also characterized by body image concerns, but individuals often engage in binge eating, and attempt to compensate to prevent weight gain through the use of purging behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, laxative or diuretic abuse, or excessive exercise. Individuals with binge eating disorder or compulsive overeating may be of normal weight or overweight, but struggle with cycles of overeating and subsequent feelings of shame.

Many symptoms of the above mentioned disorders overlap, so that individuals with eating disorders may have forms of one or more of the disorders at any one time. Some may not fit all of the diagnostic criteria at a given time, but may experience the associated low self-esteem, poor body image and health effects nonetheless. When reviewing the list of symptoms below, please keep in mind that this is a partial list of possible symptoms, and that you do not need to have every symptom listed to warrant getting the help you need.

Warning signs of anorexia

  • extreme weight loss
  • continuing to diet, even though quite thin
  • distorted body image
  • irregular or absent menstrual periods
  • unrealistic fear of weight gain
  • preoccupation with food, nutrition, calories and/or cooking
  • food rituals or rigid rules about eating
  • avoiding meals
  • preferring to eat in isolation
  • frequent weight monitoring
  • compulsive exercise
  • binging and purging behaviors
  • symptoms of low blood pressure, low blood sugar, dehydration
  • Warning signs of bulimia
  • binging or eating uncontrollably
  • purging through self-induced vomiting, laxative or diuretic abuse, use of diet pills, or excessive exercise
  • use of restrictive dieting to prevent weight gain
  • body image concerns
  • preoccupation with food, calories and weight
  • using the bathroom frequently after meals
  • dental problems, frequent sore throats, and digestive complaints

While the above is a partial list of warning signs, each individual is unique, and may only have one or a few of these. More serious, even life-threatening complications may develop at any time, so these symptoms must be taken seriously. Associated emotional and cognitive problems such as depression and mood swings, anxiety, impaired memory and concentration, and alcohol and substance abuse are also common. Parents, siblings, spouses, friends, roommates, and co-workers all may be affected by the disorder.