An eating disorder is a psychological disorder defined by the insufficient or excessive intake of food. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa (self-starvation), bulimia (binging and vomiting) and binge eating (excessive eating without purging). Eating disorders are serious and can be fatal.
It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between normal dieting and an eating disorder. It can also be hard to spot dramatic weight loss, gain or fluctuations that can be easily disguised under baggy clothes or layers of clothes.
General warning signs of an eating disorder are rapid weight loss or gain and a distorted body image. More specific warning signs:
Learn about other signs and symptoms of eating disorders.
Only a doctor can diagnose and treat an eating disorder. If you think you may be suffering from an eating disorder, the best way to handle it is to seek professional help right away—no one will judge you, and getting help is actually a sign of strength. It is possible to recover from an eating disorder.
Treatments for eating disorders typically include a combination of psychotherapy, nutritional counseling and support groups. Therapy will help you learn healthy habits and improve your self-image. Sometimes friends and family may benefit from counseling too. If the condition is severe, residential treatment or hospitalization may be required.
The National Eating Disorder Association provides a list of resources and support groups in your area. You can also call the hotline at 1-800-931-2237 for immediate information and help.
Worrying that a friend may have an eating disorder can be scary, but talking about it can be even scarier. But it’s important to address an eating disorder—without treatment, eating disorders only get worse, and they can be life-threatening.
If you suspect someone you care about has an eating disorder, pick a time to talk privately and try not to be confrontational. You might even want to plan what you say ahead of time. Here are some suggestions:
Whatever the treatment prescribed, recovering from an eating disorder takes time. To support a friend or loved one, you can:
Remember: eating disorders are not just about dieting. They are very personal and often involved complex emotions and fears. Anyone suffering from an eating disorder deserves support and understanding—especially if it’s you.
A College Epidemic: Eating Disorders
Eating Disorders: Mayo Clinic
HelpGuide.org: Eating Disorder Treatment and Recovery
NEDA: National Eating Disorders Association