Eating Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Eating disorder

Bulimia, anorexia, overeating – everyone has heard these names at least once. In this article, we tell you what an eating disorder is, what the symptoms are, and how it all relates to mental processes.

How can food become a drug? Why is “just eating” not so easy? How are eating disorders growing? And why might you be at risk too?

Eating Disorder Symptoms and Types

eating disorders

ED, also known as eating disorders, are a class of mental disorders associated with eating disorders. This is when a person cannot “just eat” or “just not eat.”

Typically, in a patient with ED, food takes up too much space in the head, causes obsessive thoughts and fears, as well as dangerous behaviors. Food (and nutritional control), in this case, acts more as a tool for suppressing anxiety, stress, and the implementation of perfectionism, and not as an end goal.

The most common EDs:

Anorexia Nervosa


  • severe fear of weight gain (even if the current weight is already so low that it is dangerous to health); 
  • excessive influence of body shape on self-esteem; 
  • consumption of a critically small amount of food.

As a rule, an anorexia patient has a bodyweight below normal, but this is rather a consequence, not a condition for the diagnosis. There is also atypical anorexia – when all the symptoms are present, but bodyweight is normal.

Bulimia Nervosa

ice cream


  • recurrent episodes of overeating a lot of food, often in secret from other people; 
  • feeling of loss of control while overeating; 
  • shame and guilt; 
  • compensatory behavior – spontaneous induction of vomiting after eating, taking laxatives, diuretics, etc. 

Binge Eating Disorder


  • repeated bouts of overeating with the absorption of large amounts of food; 
  • feeling of loss of control while overeating; 
  • shame and guilt; 
  • in contrast to bulimia nervosa, people with BED often lack compensatory behavior. 

Eating disorders distort a person’s perception and affect the psyche in the long term. Therefore, treating a person with such disorders is a difficult and time-consuming process.

Beginning as a mental disorder, ED further affects physical health – there are disruptions in the hormonal system, the work of vital organs is disrupted, which in advanced cases can lead to death.

The mortality and suicide statistics for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are not very rosy.

How Does Eating Disorder Occur?

eating disorder test

Let’s talk about the formation of a cycle of dependence on food and the violation of hunger-satiety mechanisms.

When a person begins to lose weight because of dissatisfaction with their figure, the whole process begins with a desire to “fix” something in themselves. The thought “I’m wrong because I’m fat” can spread to other areas of life.

Explicitly or indirectly, a person begins to measure their success, popularity in society, and benefit by assessing their own figure and body. Clean” food becomes “good,” permitted, and “harmful” – “bad,” it is strictly prohibited.

If the diet has been broken, the feeling of guilt forces you to control your eating behavior even more stubbornly. And again, there is a breakdown in control. Thus, a closed-loop appears. For some people, it can become a true cycle of addiction. For example, binge eating may have a cycle like this:

  1. Phobia, 
  2. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, 
  3. Panic Disorder, 
  4. Bulimia, 
  5. Major Depression, 
  6. Alcoholism.

SourceThe structure of the genetic and environmental risk factors for six major psychiatric disorders in women.


In addition, hunger and satiety mechanisms are impaired over time in people with ED. What seems like a trifle to a healthy person (“just eat and that’s it!”) can be a real challenge for a person with bulimia or anorexia.

Let’s say someone suppressed the natural urge to hunger for a long time and experienced fear in relation to food. It would be appropriate to say that such a person simply “forgot how to eat normally.” This complicates the treatment process, as you have to re-learn to feel your body, recognize its signals, and work with your emotions.

Behavioral Patterns

eating disorder treatment

Unhealthy behavioral patterns accompany the development of EDs, including:

  • systemic suppression of hunger;
  • adherence to a rigid schedule of meals;
  • division of food into “good and bad”;
  • exclusion of food groups from the diet (here, excluding cases of allergies, real intolerance, and therapeutic, preventive nutrition);
  • punishment for “breakdown” through training and fasting;
  • seizing stress, and so on.

Eating Disorder Statistics

treatment for eating disorder

Food problems are not limited to certain populations. It is believed that the main target audience of ED is women aged 14-25, usually from developed countries.

Because of this, a stereotype has mutated in society: that only “white, rich girls” suffer from eating disorders, mainly in the West, they say, from a good life. This is not true.

Nutritional problems are also common among poor people who suffer from nutritional deficiencies. Food is not always available for such people. Sometimes they have to starve. And this can lead to the development of various pathologies of eating behavior.

In one study, people with low incomes were interviewed – these are 503 volunteers who receive food mainly on social cards. More than half of them (65%) are Hispanics. Thus, symptoms of binge eating were noted by 23% of respondents. In terms of the overall clinical picture, 17% of the participants had all the symptoms necessary for an eating disorder diagnosis.

In terms of gender, indeed, women are more likely to suffer from eating disorders on average than men. But! This does not mean that such a problem does not exist among the male population.

Due to the sad stereotype that ED is a “female” disease, suppression, and denial of the problem occur among men with ED symptoms. This provokes an increase in the incidence among this group over the past decades.

Currently, according to public research and surveys, about 25% of people with eating disorders are men. And here are indicative data from clinics: there, the number of men from the total sample was 10%. This suggests that many men with ED symptoms probably do not seek help in real life.

Other Stats

eating disorder definition

Scientific articles note that the rates of eating disorders are on the rise in the world lately. One of the important factors is the popularity of low-calorie diets.

It is believed that people with moderate diets are 5 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than non-diets. Following a diet is also known to increase the risk of bulimia symptoms since severe dietary restrictions often lead to physical and emotional exhaustion.

There is one interesting study. It studied young people who tried rigid diets and unhealthy dietary restrictions in their teens to lose weight. 5 years after leaving school, they were interviewed – more than two and a half thousand men and women were interviewed.

The study results are that diets and excessive dietary and weight control predict outcomes associated with obesity and eating disorders in 5 years.

Is ED an Addiction?


Eating disorders are an addiction—exactly the same as addiction to alcohol or drugs. The researchers note that up to half of people suffering from ED are prone to substance abuse or alcohol abuse.

These statistics are accompanied by studies of the dopaminergic system in women suffering from binge eating disorder. Hypotheses are now being discussed that binge eating and bulimia involve the same “pathophysiological mechanism” as substance use disorders.

All of this leads to the idea that eating disorders may be associated with the risk of drug dependence. But the fact that food itself can turn into a “drug” is not surprising. These tendencies are a natural consequence of inherited culture.



In recent decades, ED has captured more and more people around the world. At some point, dangerous diseases even began to gain unhealthy popularity – due to the romanticization of mental disorders. But there is nothing romantic about it.

Eating disorder is not a joke or a way to get attention. These are problems with perception and psyche that need to be addressed.

People suffering from ED should start by acknowledging the problem and seeking help from a professional, relatives, and friends to understand and support because this is an important moment in rehabilitation.

It is no shame that food has become a tool for suppressing anxiety. The environment in which we live creates all the conditions for this. The boom in gastronomic production in developed countries, plus pop culture with glossy ideals, is already an explosive mixture for the development of an inadequate attitude to food and one’s body.

Perhaps the idea of ​​accepting your body in nutrition and life is a necessary measure in the modern world. Moreover, it is also important in order to build a really beautiful and healthy figure.

Therefore, if you have problems with diets and food perception, even without the stage of disorders, the formation of adequate perception of your body and food is vital.


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