About Eating Disorders

We're changing the conversation.

Eating disorders are not a choice. Despite common misconceptions, eating disorders can affect anyone regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, body shape or weight, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. They are complex, psychiatric illnesses stemming from a variety of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. There is no single cause to point to or to blame. Eating disorders impact over 30 million persons in the United States alone.

What Is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder diagnosis is a health crisis that disrupts personal, family, and community functioning for individuals as young at 6 years old. Many individuals will suffer for years or tens of years before seeking treatment and even then may only seek help for the medical consequences. Early detection and intervention are critical components of a complete recovery. Unfortunately, societal misunderstandings, pressures, and stigmas often deter accurate diagnosis and prevent access to care. Eating disorders are lethal, but they don’t have to be. Help us change the conversation around eating disorders and champion truth, compassion, and early intervention.

Anorexia Nervosa

Persons with anorexia nervosa may see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight.

What to look for:

Frequent body/weight/mirror checking, severely restricted food intake, and/or extreme diet rigidity that only allows for small quantities of certain foods

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Bulimia Nervosa

Individuals with bulimia nervosa may appear healthy, even though they are very ill, and are unduly influenced by body weight and shape in terms of self-evaluation.

What to look for:

Elusive behaviors around meal times, extreme exercise-routine rigidity, inflammation around an individual's mouth and knuckles, and delayed wound healing

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Binge-Eating Disorder

Individuals with binge-eating disorder may experience an array of extreme, negative emotions around food, mealtimes, and eating.

What to look for:

Binge-eating episodes that are not associated with inappropriate compensatory behaviors, but are associated with feelings of lack of control or self-loathing and occur, on average, at least once a week for three months

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Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder

Though individuals with OSFED fall outside the definitions of the other major eating disorders, this diagnosis nevertheless indicates than an individual is seriously ill.

What to look for:

A preoccupation with weight, food, appearance, and/or calorie counting; sudden/frequent mood changes; frequent standing, pacing, and/or fidgeting; and/or excessive participation in physical activity

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Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Individuals with ARFID may experience extreme emotional dysregulation and anxiety around meal times, have a fear of vomiting or choking, and/or undergo thorough testing for chronic abdominal pain with no satisfactory findings.

What to look for:

Dysregulated emotions around meal times, significant weight loss, and/or a failure to meet nutritional needs and growth trajectories

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Co-occurring Disorders

Eating disorders often occur alongside a spectrum of other psychiatric and developmental disorders. Taking an individual's primary diagnosis into account when considering treatment is critical to their long-term recovery.

What to look for:

Regular displays of emotions that do not fall within a generally acceptable range of emotive responses

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Resources for Supporting Someone with an Eating Disorder

How Are Eating Disorders Like Cancer?

What do eating disorders and cancer treatments have in common? In my experience – a lot. For 15 years, I worked as a physician at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital…

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SCOFF: Eating Disorder Assessment Tool

The SCOFF questionnaire is a useful tool to screen for maladaptive eating behaviors. Individuals answering “yes” to two or more questions may be at risk for an eating disorder and…

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What Causes Eating Disorders?

For 15 years I worked as a research scientist examining the neurobiologic and genetic underpinnings of eating disorders. The number one question I heard (and still hear) is: What causes eating disorders? Is…

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Understanding the Diagnostic Criteria for Eating Disorders

There are specific behaviors that point to different types of eating disorders. Understanding and identifying these signs and symptoms is critical to providing the most effective individualized course of treatment…

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