Eating Disorders Overview

Eating disorders represent a set of serious conditions where a skewed perception of body image leads to a preoccupation with food. They can cause nutritional deficits and become so extreme as to be life-threatening.

Main eating disorders include:


Anorexia nervosa

Limitation of food intake or self-starvation.

Symptoms consist of:

  • Distorted body image
  • Denial of hunger signs and refusal to eat
  • food preoccupation and calorie counting
  • Insomnia
  • Extreme exercise
  • Irritable
  • Flat affect
  • Social withdrawal
  • Menstrual irregularity
  • Cardiac arrythmias
  • Dry skin
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Dehydration
  • Low blood pressure
  • Often feels cold


Bulimia nervosa

Cycles of bingeing and purging where large quantities of food are consumed over a short time frame and then vomiting is induced to rid the excess calories.

Symptoms consist of:

  • Self-induced vomiting; relaxed gag reflex
  • Overeating to the level of pain or discomfort, often with high fat or high calorie content
  • Use of laxatives
  • Negative/distorted body image
  • Low self-esteem
  • Bathroom visits during or after meals
  • Poor condition of teeth and gums
  • Sores in mouth and throat
  • Dehydration
  • Cardiac beat irregularities
  • Menstrual irregularities



Excessive food intake without the purging and exercise following it. As guilt or shame ensues, a new round of food intake occurs, even when not hungry.

Symptoms consist of:

  • Eating faster than normal
  • Consuming food to the level of pain or discomfort
  • Eating alone (closet eating)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Disgusted or guilty about quantity of food consumed


Written by Barbara Hales, MD

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