Eating disorders are characterized by a persistent pattern of dysfunctional eating or dieting behavior. These behaviors usually are driven by overconcern with weight and shape. These patterns of eating behavior and body image issues are associated with significant emotional, physical, and interpersonal distress.
The three most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Females are statistically more likely to develop an eating disorder, though males account for up to 15% of patients with anorexia or bulimia and almost half of those with binge eating disorder.
It is generally agreed that the incidence of eating disorders has increased over the last 30-40 years. Approximately 0.5 percent to 1.0 percent of late adolescent or adult women meet criteria for the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa. Approximately 1.0 percent to 2.0 percent of late adolescent and adult women meet criteria for the diagnosis of bulimia nervosa.
However, at any given time 10 percent or more of late adolescent and adult women report symptoms of eating disorders. Although these symptoms may not satisfy full diagnostic criteria, they do often cause distress and impairment. Interventions with these individuals may be helpful and may prevent the development of more serious disorders.
Warning Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders
Rapid Weight Loss/Gain
Diet books/Dieting behavior
Evidence of visiting pro-anorexia or eating disorder websites
Sudden decision to become a vegetarian
Increased picky eating, especially eating only “healthy foods”
Always going to the bathroom immediately after eating
Unusual number of stomach flu episodes
Large amounts of food missing
Decreased social interactions
Intense fear of becoming fat/Disturbance in body image
Fasting and skipping meals regularly
Three skipped periods (in females) in conjunction with weight loss
Any binge-eating episodes
Any purging episodes
Discovery of diet pills, diuretics, or laxatives
Excessive exercise (more than an hour a day) and weight loss
Persistent and unremitting refusal to eat non-diet foods
Refusing to allow others to prepare foods
Extreme calorie counting or portion control (weighing and measuring food amounts)
Refusing to eat with friends
Eating disorders are life-threatening medical illnesses — but they are treatable. Patients can and do recover, especially with early, intensive intervention.
It is estimated that nearly one-half of patients with anorexia nervosa recover, 33 percent improve somewhat, and 20 percent remain chronically ill. Numerous studies have attempted to identify predictors of the course and recovery of anorexia nervosa, but these findings have been contradictory and unclear.
Similar to anorexia nervosa, approximately 50 percent of individuals with bulimia recover, 30 percent improve somewhat, and 20 percent continue to meet full criteria for bulimia nervosa.