Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are most common in men and women under the age of 30, but can occur in any age group or gender. Eating disorders are characterized by a serious disturbance in eating behaviour (either eating too much or too little).

  • Anorexia Nervosa
    Anorexia Nervosa is one of the most common eating disorders. This serious illness involves drastic weight loss due to fasting and may be accompanied by excessive exercise.
    • Symptoms:
      • 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);
      • Viewing self as overweight, even though dangerously thin;
      • Unusual eating habits, such as avoiding food and meals, picking out a few foods and eating these in small quantities, or carefully weighing and portioning food;
      • Repeatedly checking body weight, which is usually below normal.
  • Bulimia
    This involves binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting and the abuse of laxatives.
    • Symptoms:
      • Episodes of binge eating, characterized by eating an excessive amount of food followed by self-induced vomiting;
      • Recurrent, inappropriate compensatory behaviour in order to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medications (purging); fasting; or excessive exercise;
      • Inappropriate compensatory behaviours both occur, on average, at least twice a week for at least three months;
      • Self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight;
      • May be normal body weight.
  • Binge Eating Disorder (compulsive eating)
    This is often overeating, often in secret and often carried out as a means of deriving comfort.
    • Symptoms:
      • Recurrent episodes of binge eating, characterized by eating an excessive amount of food and by a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode;
      • Binge-eating episodes are associated with at least three 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 behaviour;
      • Binge eating occurs, on average, at least two days a week for six months;
      • Binge eating is not associated with the regular use of inappropriate compensatory behaviours (e.g., purging, fasting, excessive exercise);
      • May be over normal body weight.

An eating disorder is a problematic coping strategy. People with eating disorders may feel shame about weight fluctuations, and low self-esteem may exacerbate the illness. Successful treatment involves initially stabilizing the nutritional status of the person with an eating disorder, followed by a variety of psychotherapies. Preventive interventions in high-risk populations are also showing positive results.