The term "eating disorders" describes conditions in which preoccupation with food, eating-related behaviors, and weight become the central focuses of someone's life. Eating disorders are serious, chronic health conditions that affect men and women of all ages, but primarily affect young women – and they can be fatal because they lead to severe medical complications, such as organ failure from self-starvation.
Two major types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. While people with anorexia are painfully thin, those with bulimia can be a normal weight.
Common symptoms of anorexia include:
- Extreme fear of fat
- Being underweight yet seeing oneself as fat
- Compulsive counting of calories, hoarding food
- Perfectionism and need for absolute control
- Excessive exercise
Common symptoms of bulimia include:
- Binge eating followed by "purging" the food through vomiting, abuse of laxatives or diuretics, and over-exercise
- Hiding behavior from family, friends and doctors
Treatment of eating disorders includes therapy and, if necessary, hospitalization at a specialized facility, which can be chosen with the help of a psychiatrist.
In anorexia nervosa the patient refuses to maintain weight above 85% of expected weight for age and height, has intense fear of weight gain or of being fat, and has a serious disturbance in the perception of his or her weight and shape.
In bulimia nervosa the patient has repeated episodes of binging on an excessive amount of food within a two-hour span and lacking a sense of self-control over eating.