Eating Disorders

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are psychological problems related to concerns about eating, body shape and weight. Individuals affected by eating disorders tend to be pre-occupied with their eating and exercising habits, and how these affect their body shape and their weight. Some of the general warning signs of an eating disorder are:


  • Excessive worrying about body image and weight
  • Abnormal fear of weight gain
  • Belief that being thin will solve all one's problems
  • Excessive dieting or very restrictive eating patterns
  • Purging (getting rid of food by use of vomiting, laxatives,
    diuretics or exercise etc.)
  • Binges, in which one eats an excessive amount of food, accompanied
    by a feeling of loss of control over eating
  • Strict or excessive exercise regime
  • Poor body image
  • Letting food and eating overshadow all other activities

Are you worried that you may have an eating disorder? Take a quick online test at psychcentral.com or at casapalmera.com. These tests have been selected as they are relatively brief and don't require an e-mail address.

Eating disorders are generally split up into four main categories, depending on the type of eating problem that the person has. These are:

Anorexia Nervosa

The anorexic's thoughts centre around being thin and the person may restrict the types and amount of food they eat, over-exercise, use appetite suppressants, make themselves vomit, use laxatives or anything else they can think of to achieve weight loss. Someone with anorexia will spend a large part of their day thinking about weight and counting calories, kilojoules, fat grams or carbohydrates. Anorexics feel a sense of control and power from being able to restrict their body weight and food intake and also experience intense fear of gaining weight and/or being perceived as fat. She/he also has a distorted body image which means that the individual sees themselves as fat even if their weight is normal or below normal. The person may also binge and/or purge from time to time. Anorexics typically resist maintaining a normal weight for their height and age.

Bulimia Nervosa

The bulimic is trapped in a cycle of bingeing (eating a higher than normal quantity of food accompanied by feelings of loss of control), followed by compensatory behaviour to reduce the unpleasant feelings that accompany the binge and to prevent weight gain. Compensatory behaviour generally involves self-induced vomiting but can include use of laxatives, fasting, vigorous exercise etc. Some bulimics may only binge and purge once in a while, while others will do so several times a day. Someone suffering from bulimia also has a pre-occupation with their weight and body shape. The bulimic is not necessarily underweight and may have a normal or above-normal weight with frequent fluctuations in weight.

Binge-eating Disorder

Someone with binge-eating disorder experiences recurrent episodes of bingeing, accompanied by loss of control over eating. The binges occur without the use of inappropriate measures (such as purging) to control weight. The binge-eater feels distress about over-eating and is concerned about the effects of bingeing on his/her weight and body shape. Binge-eating disorder is the most commonly found eating issue, but tends not to receive as much press information as some of the other disorders..

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified and other lesser known eating problems

Eating Disorder NOS is a general category for individuals who have an eating disorder that negatively affects their lives, but does not fall into any of the main categories. For example, someone who continually restricts but does not meet the criteria for anorexia nervosa would fall into this category. Additional eating behaviours such as excessive compensation after eating small amounts of food, repeatedly chewing and spitting out food without swallowing are also included in this category.

Orthorexia is often used to refer to a disorder where the individual is fixated on eating "correctly", to an extent where it affects other areas of their life. Typical examples include avoiding unhealthy fats, sugar or salt, or avoiding artificial additives, pesticides or genetic modification. These strict beliefs and rules about what can be eaten start to impact on other areas of life such as social interactions and relationships.