Eating disorders are serious health conditions that can greatly impact an individual’s physical and emotional well-being. Eating disorders can result from an individual using restrictive, extreme, and unhealthy food-related behaviors. Often, these behaviors serve the function of changing one’s physical appearance and/or managing one’s emotions.
Eating disorders most commonly develop in adolescence and young adulthood. Extreme eating disordered behavior can leave an individual with nutritional deficits and damage the heart, digestive system, bones, and teeth. An individual engaging in restrictive eating, binging, or purging might meet criteria for a specific eating disorder:
- Anorexia nervosa is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight, and distorted perceptions of one’s own physical appearance. The most common behavior associated with anorexia is restrictive eating, though an individual with anorexia may also over-exercise, vomit, or use laxatives to eliminate calories. Physical symptoms of anorexia include dehydration, decreased heart rate, hair loss, and absence of a menstrual period.
- Bulimia nervosa is a serious eating disorder characterized by episodes of binging (overeating) and purging food. Individuals with bulimia feel out-of-control with their eating, often leading to intense shame, guilt, or disgust. Physical symptoms include dehydration, increased heart rate, hair loss, swollen cheeks, eroded dental enamel, and burst capillaries around the eyes.
- Binge-eating disorder is also characterized by binging food and may occur when an individual doesn’t even feel hungry, leading to feelings of shame, guilt, or disgust. However, an individual with binge-eating disorder does not engage in purging behaviors afterward; they are more likely to hide their binging behavior instead. There are no obvious physical symptoms of binge-eating disorder.
- Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) differs from the picky eating commonly seen in young children. ARFID is when, for any reason outside of concerns about body weight, an individual’s eating is so restricted that they are unable to meet their daily nutritional requirements. An individual with ARFID may be disinterested in food, avoid foods with particular sensory characteristics (e.g., texture, smell), or fear particular outcomes associated with eating (e.g., choking, vomiting). ARFID can result in small stature and digestive problems.
Services at BCSC that treat eating disordered behavior: