Eating Disorders

Eating disorders involve a disturbance of eating or of behaviour related to eating, typically including:

  • Changes in what or how much people eat.
  • Measures people take to prevent food from being absorbed, for example:
    • Making themselves vomit; or
    • Taking a laxative.

For unusual eating behaviour to be considered a disorder, the behaviour must continue for a period of time and cause significant harm to the individual’s physical health and/or ability to function at school or work or negatively affect the individual’s interactions with other people.

Eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia nervosa is characterised by a relentless pursuit of thinness, a distorted body image, an extreme fear of obesity, and restriction of food consumption, leading to a significantly low body weight.
    • individuals with anorexia nervosa restrict their intake of food, but they may also binge-eat, then compensate by purging (for example, by making themselves vomit or using laxatives).
    • Individuals who have the disorder may restrict their food intake to the point where their health is harmed.
    • Although anorexia means loss of appetite, many individuals with anorexia nervosa do not lose their appetite until they are very emaciated.
  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder is characterised by eating very little food and/or avoiding eating certain foods without the concern about body shape or weight that is typical in individuals with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.
    • Usually, individuals with this disorder are extremely picky about food and types of food.
    • For example, they may avoid foods that are a certain colour, consistency, or odour.
    • Some individuals are afraid of possible adverse consequences of eating such as choking or vomiting.
  • Binge eating disorder is characterised by eating unusually large amounts of food – much more than most individuals would eat in a similar time under similar circumstances.
    • The individual may feel a loss of control during and after binge eating.
    • Binge eating is not followed by purging or other attempts to compensate for the excess food eaten.
  • Bulimia nervosa is characterised by repeated episodes of rapidly eating large amounts of food, followed by attempting to compensate for the excess food consumed.
    • For example, the individual may make themselves vomit or take laxatives.
  • Pica is regularly eating things that are not food.
  • Rumination disorder is characterised by regurgitation of food after eating.

Eating disorders are more common among women, especially younger women, than among men.

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