Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are psychological disorders in which individuals have disordered eating and are typically obsessed with food, body image, and/or body weight.

Eating disorders stem from a multitude of complex emotional factors, ranging from depression to sexual abuse. Eating disorders are a real psychological illness and are diagnosed as anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder. Eating disorders must be differentiated from dieting or from disordered eating. Not everyone who diets or who has disordered eating develops an eating disorder.

Feelings of low self-worth, intense perfectionism, and black-and-white thinking tend to precede development of eating disorders. Two sorts of families often produce children with eating disorders: families in which emotions are repressed (no anger is permitted) or families in which boundaries are not observed (a parent may be an addict or have a personality disorder). Nature also plays a role in who develops an eating disorder; the comorbid diagnoses of anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder also put people at risk for clinical eating disorders. Many psychologists concur that eating disorders are a unique intersection of nature and nurture, family, and culture. Pervasive societal messages equate thinness with happiness. Eating disorders usually surface in adolescence, and more than 90% of sufferers are female; however, the incidence among males appeared to be growing as of 2015. Because eating disorders are neither purely physical nor purely psychological; effective treatment includes both medical management and psychotherapy. The earlier a diagnosis is made and treatment is started, the better the chances of a successful outcome.

The two most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia. The newest eating disorder recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5 is binge-eating disorder (BED), which has existed for decades but only in the late twentieth century been recognized as a discrete diagnosis. The DSM-5 defines it as recurrent episodes of binge eating characterized by both of the following:

The binge-eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:

Alternatively, psychologists speculate that people with BED binge in order to regulate their feeling states. Treatment for BED is not weight loss. Rather, the treatment consists of helping individuals to reduce binges and feel more control agency over their food intake. Qualitative data have shown that people who lost a mother early in life or who have been sexually abused often develop BED. Psychologists theorize that food can soothe unsatisfied yearning for comfort or serve as a protective shield from unwanted sexual advances.

See also Anxiety/anxiety disorders; Anorexia ; Bulimia ; Body image ; Food addiction .



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Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 120 South Riverside Plaza, Ste. 2000, Chicago, IL, 60606-6995, (312) 8990040, (800) 877-1600.

American Anorexia and Bulimia Association (AABA), 418 E. 78th St., New York, NY, 10021, (212) 734-1114,, .