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An eating disorder is characterized by an abnormal or disturbed obsession with food and dieting. There are many different types of eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, orthorexia, and EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified). Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 5-10% of anorexics die within a decade after contracting the disease, 18-20% will die within 20 years, and 60-70% of anorexics will never recover.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by extreme thinness, a relentless pursuit of thinness, and an unwillingness to maintain a healthy or normal body weight. Many anorexics consider themselves fat, even when it’s obvious to others that they are very underweight.

Early Signs of Anorexia Nervosa

  • Preoccupation with thinness
  • Repeatedly weighing oneself
  • Portioning food carefully
  • Hiding food
  • Restricted eating
  • Refusing to eat with friends or family members
  • Obsession with size and appearance
  • Excessive exercise
  • Misusing laxatives and diet pills

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent and frequent episodes of eating large amounts of food followed by purging, using laxatives, fasting, or a combination of all three. Bulimics are harder to identify because they typically maintain a healthy weight; some may even be considering overweight. Usually, bulimic behavior is carried out secretly because the bulimic feels disgusted and ashamed.

Early Signs of Bulimia Nervosa

  • Obsession with thinness
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom
  • Misusing laxatives and diet pills
  • Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area
  • Puffy, swollen appearance (caused by frequent vomiting)
  • Sensitive teeth and worn tooth enamel (caused by frequent vomiting)

Binge-eating Disorder

Binge-eating disorder is characterized by a total lack of control over eating. Those with binge-eating disorder will eat huge amounts of food. However, unlike with bulimia, those with binge-eating disorder do not fast, exercise, or purge after eating. Most people with binge-eating disorder are very overweight and even obese. They often experience the same feelings of disgust and distress, which may lead to more binge-eating episodes.

Early Signs of Binge-eating Disorder

  • Eating as a form of stress relief
  • Large amounts of food go missing
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Depression
  • Feelings of shame and disgust at binge-eating behavior

Orthorexia Nervosa

Orthorexia nervosa is a relatively new category of EDNOS. The term was coined by Steven Bratman to describe his own relationship with food and eating. Orthorexia nervosa is characterized by a very unhealthy, almost OCD-like obsession with eating the “right” foods. Most Orthorexics are very health conscious. Typically, the behavior begins innocently enough when a person decides to eat more healthily. However, orthorexia nervosa may develop when the person becomes completely fixated on food quality and purity.

Early Signs of Orthorexia Nervosa

  • Obsession with eating healthy
  • Refusal to “break the rules” of the healthy diet
  • Punishing oneself for “slipping up” by fasting or exercising excessively
  • Feeling morally superior to those who are not as conscious of their eating habits

Eating disorders are deadly and require in-patient treatment in order for the person to get healthy. If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, get help right away.