Eating Disorders


Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes people to obsess about their weight and the food they eat. People with anorexia nervosa attempt to maintain a weight that's far below normal for their age and height. To prevent weight gain or to continue losing weight, people with anorexia nervosa may starve themselves or exercise excessively.

People who have anorexia:

- Weigh much less than is healthy or normal.

- Are very afraid of gaining weight.

- Refuse to stay at a normal weight.

- Think they are overweight even when they are very thin.

- Their lives become focused on controlling their weight.

- Obsess about food, weight, and dieting.

- Strictly limit how much they eat.

- Exercise a lot, even when they are sick.

- Vomit or use laxatives or water pills (diuretics) to avoid weight gain.


If your weight has dropped too low, you will need to be treated in a hospital.

Anorexia can take a long time to overcome, and it is common to fall back into unhealthy habits. If you are having problems, don't try to handle them on your own. Get help now.

What should you do if you think someone has anorexia?

It can be very scary to realize that someone you care about has an eating disorder. But you can help.

If you think your child has anorexia:

  • Talk to her. Tell her why you are worried. Let her know you care.
  • Make an appointment for you and your child to meet with a doctor or a counselor.

If you're worried about someone you know:

  • Tell someone who can make a difference, like a parent, teacher, counselor, or doctor. A person with anorexia may insist that she doesn't need help, but she does. The sooner she gets treatment, the sooner she will be healthy again.

Binge Eating

Binge-eating disorder is a serious eating disorder in which you frequently consume unusually large amounts of food. Almost everyone overeats on occasion, such as having seconds or thirds of a holiday meal. But for some people, overeating crosses the line to binge-eating disorder and it becomes a regular occurrence, usually done in secret.


  • Eating unusually large amounts of food
  • Eating even when you're full or not hungry
  • Eating rapidly during binge episodes
  • Eating until you're uncomfortably full
  • Frequently eating alone
  • Feeling that your eating behavior is out of control
  • Feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty or upset about your eating
  • Experiencing depression and anxiety
  • Feeling isolated and having difficulty talking about your feelings
  • Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss
  • Losing and gaining weight repeatedly, also called yo-yo dieting


Psychotherapy, whether in individual or group sessions, can help teach you how to exchange unhealthy habits for healthy ones and reduce bingeing episodes. Examples of psychotherapy include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT may help you cope better with issues that can trigger binge-eating episodes, such as negative feelings about your body or a depressed mood. It may also give you a better sense of control over your behavior and eating patterns. If you're overweight, you may need weight-loss counseling in addition to CBT.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy. Interpersonal psychotherapy focuses on your current relationships with other people. The goal is to improve your interpersonal skills — how you relate to others, including family, friends and colleagues. This may help reduce binge eating that's triggered by poor relationships and unhealthy communication skills.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy. This form of therapy can help you learn behavioral skills to help you tolerate stress, regulate your emotions and improve your relationships with others, all of which can reduce the desire to binge eat.


Bulimia is an illness in which a person binges on food or has regular episodes of overeating and feels a loss of control. The person then uses different methods -- such as vomiting or abusing laxatives -- to prevent weight gain. Many (but not all) people with bulimia also have anorexia nervosa.


- Lack of control over eating: Inability to stop eating. Eating until the point of physical discomfort and pain.

- Secrecy surrounding eating: Going to the kitchen after everyone else has gone to bed.

- Going out alone on unexpected food runs. Wanting to eat in privacy.

- Eating unusually large amounts of food with no obvious change in weight.

- Disappearance of food: numerous empty wrappers or food containers in the garbage, or hidden stashes of junk food.

- Alternating between overeating and fasting: Rarely eats normal meals. It’s all-or-nothing when it comes to food.

- Calluses or scars on the knuckles or hands from sticking fingers down the throat to induce vomiting.

- Puffy “chipmunk” cheeks caused by repeated vomiting.

- Discolored teeth from exposure to stomach acid when throwing up. May look yellow, ragged, or clear.

- Not underweight: Men and women with bulimia are usually normal weight or slightly overweight. Being underweight while purging might indicate a purging type of anorexia.

- Frequent fluctuations in weight: Weight may fluctuate by 10 pounds or more due to alternating episodes of bingeing and purging.

Steps For Recovery

- Admit you have a problem. Up until now, you’ve been invested in the idea that life will be better—that you’ll finally feel good—if you lose more weight and control what you eat. The first step in bulimia recovery is admitting that your relationship to food is distorted and out of control.

- Talk to someone. It can be hard to talk about what you’re going through, especially if you’ ve kept your bulimia a secret for a long time. You may be ashamed, ambivalent, or afraid of what others will think. But it’s important to understand that you’re not alone. Find a good listener—someone who will support you as you try to get better.

- Stay away from people, places, and activities that trigger the temptation to binge or purge. You may need to avoid looking at fashion or fitness magazines, spend less time with friends who constantly diet and talk about losing weight, and stay away from weight loss web sites and “pro-mia” sites that promote bulimia. You may also need to be careful when it comes to meal planning and cooking magazines and shows.

- Seek professional help. The advice and support of trained eating disorder professionals can help you regain your health, learn to eat normally again, and develop healthier attitudes about food and your body.