Common Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Anorexia Nervosa* Bulimia Nervosa* Binge Eating Disorder
Excessive weight loss in relatively short period of time X
Continuation of dieting although bone-thin X
Dissatisfaction with appearance; belief that body is fat, even though severely underweight
Loss of monthly menstrual periods X
Unusual interest in food and development of strange eating rituals X
Eating in secret X
Obsession with exercise X
Serious depression X
Binging–consumption of large amounts of food  
Vomiting or use of drugs to stimulate vomiting, bowel movements, and urination  
Binging but no noticeable weight gain  
Disappearance into bathroom for long periods of time to induce vomiting  
Abuse of drugs or alcohol  
* Some individuals suffer from anorexia and bulimia and have symptoms of both disorders.

(source: NIH Publication No. 94-3477, 1994)

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

People with binge-eating disorder experience frequent episodes
of out-of-control eating, with the same binge-eating symptoms as
those with bulimia. The main difference is that individuals with
binge-eating disorder do not purge their bodies of excess calories.
Therefore, many with the disorder are overweight for their age and
height. Feelings of self-disgust and shame associated with this
illness can lead to bingeing again, creating a cycle of binge eating.

Community surveys have estimated that between 2 percent and 5
percent of Americans experience binge-eating disorder in a 6-month
period. Symptoms of binge-eating disorder include:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating, characterized by eating an excessive amount of food within a discrete period of time and by a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode
  • The binge-eating episodes are associated with at least 3 of the following: eating much more rapidly than normal; eating until
    feeling uncomfortably full; eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry; eating alone because of being
    embarrassed by how much one is eating; feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating
  • Marked distress about the binge-eating behavior
  • The binge eating occurs, on average, at least 2 days a week for 6 months
  • The binge eating is not associated with the regular use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors (e.g., purging, fasting,
    excessive exercise)

(source: NIH Publication 01-4901, 2001)

What is Anorexia?

People with Anorexia Nervosa see themselves as overweight even
though they are dangerously thin. The process of eating becomes an
obsession. Unusual eating habits develop, such as avoiding food and
meals, picking out a few foods and eating these in small quantities,
or carefully weighing and portioning food. People with anorexia may
repeatedly check their body weight, and many engage in other
techniques to control their weight, such as intense and compulsive
exercise, or purging by means of vomiting and abuse of laxatives,
enemas, and diuretics. Girls with anorexia often experience a
delayed onset of their first menstrual period.

The course and outcome of anorexia nervosa vary across individuals: some fully recover after a single episode; some have a
fluctuating pattern of weight gain and relapse; and others experience a chronically deteriorating course of illness over many years.
The mortality rate among people with anorexia has been estimated at 0.56 percent per year, or approximately 5.6 percent per decade, which is about 12 times higher than the annual death rate due to all causes of death among females ages 15-24 in the general population.

The most common causes of death are complications of the
disorder, such as cardiac arrest or electrolyte imbalance, and suicide.

An estimated 0.5 to 3.7 percent of females suffer from anorexia nervosa in their lifetime. Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Resistance to maintaining body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight
  • Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight
  • Infrequent or absent menstrual periods (in females who have reached puberty)

(source: NIH Publication 01-4901, 2001)

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating Disorders involve serious disturbances in eating behavior, such as extreme and unhealthy reduction of food intake or severe
overeating, as well as feelings of distress or extreme concern about body shape or weight.

Eating disorders are not due to a failure of will or behavior; rather, they are real, treatable medical illnesses in which certain
maladaptive patterns of eating take on a life of their own. The main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

A third type, binge-eating disorder, has been suggested but has not yet been approved as a formal psychiatric diagnosis. Eating
disorders frequently develop during adolescence or early adulthood, but some reports indicate their onset can occur during childhood or later in adulthood.

Eating disorders frequently co-occur with other psychiatric disorders such as depression, substance abuse, and anxiety
disorders. In addition, people who suffer from eating disorders can experience a wide range of physical health complications, including
serious heart conditions and kidney failure which may lead to death. Recognition of eating disorders as real and treatable diseases,
therefore, is critically important.

Females are much more likely than males to develop an eating disorder. Only an estimated 5 to 15 percent of people with anorexia
or bulimia and an estimated 35 percent of those with binge-eating disorder are male.

(source: NIH Publication 01-4901, 2001)