According to the Refrew Center, one of the leaders in eating disorder treatment, up to 24 million people in the United States and 70 million throughout the world, of all ages and genders, suffer from eating disorders. The most common types of eating disorders are:

Anorexia nervosa

Can be characterized by emaciation, a persistent quest of thinness, distorted body image, a severe fear of gaining weight and unusual eating behavior. Those with anorexia think they are overweight although they do not fall into a normal range of weight. Those with anorexia become obsessed with food and weight control.

Bulimia nervosa

Is characterized by regular episodes of eating abnormally large amounts of food (binge-eating). Those who suffer from bulimia often feel they can't control the binging. This binge-eating is then off-set by a type of behavior that those who suffer believe will compensate for the binge. This is often referred to as a purge and can include vomiting, excessive exercise, fasting, or the use of laxatives or diuretics. Unlike those that suffer from anorexia nervosa, sufferers of bulimia can fall within a normal range of weight. Bulimics fear gaining weight, want very much to lose weight, and are deeply dissatisfied with their body shape and size.

Eating disorders not otherwise specified (ENDOS)

Is simply a diagnosis for those suffer from eating disordered thoughts, feelings, and behaviors but do not meet all the specific criteria for anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Binge-eating disorder can be categorized under EDNOS.

Binge-eating disorder

Is characterized by regular binge-eating episodes. Like the bulimic, those with binge-eating disorder feel as if they can't control the binging. Unlike bulimia, binge-eating episodes are not followed by a purge. Consequently, those who suffer from binge-eating disorder often are overweight or obese. Binge-eaters experience guilt, embarrassment and/or distress about their binge-eating, these feelings can often precede more episodes of binging.

It is a known fact that at times these eating disorders can be deadly if not caught and treated soon enough. However with careful detection and thorough treatment by professionals, those who suffer from eating disorders can recover. There are a few warning signs, although some are subtle and hard to detect, that you can look for that will help you determine whether or not someone you know has an eating disorder. Some of these include the following about someone:

  • Dramatic changes is weight, both up and down

  • Distorted body image

  • Makes up excuses to avoid meals or leaves right after a meal, often to use the bathroom

  • Is preoccupied with food, calorie counting, nutrition, or cooking

  • Strange eating behaviors - picks at food, pushes food around plate, hides food, cuts food into really small pieces

  • Strange bathroom behaviors - load music or running water are often used to cover up the sound of vomiting

  • For a female, stops menstruating or has irregular periods

  • Seems depressed, socially withdrawn or irritable

  • Exercises compulsively

  • Hoards or hides food

  • Wears baggy clothing to hide thinness

  • Unusual fatigue

  • Always cold

Those with eating disorders are suffering both physically and emotionally. If you suspect someone you know has an eating disorder it is best to address it with care and concern and to provide them with the support they need.

For more information about eating disorders you can download or order a booklet from the National Institute of Mental Health.

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