Understanding eating disorders

Eating disorders are complex mental disorders more about misusing food to deal with emotions than about food itself.

The different types of eating disorders include the two most recognized ones, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, as well as binge eating disorder and"eating disorder not otherwise specified.”

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders in Highland Park defines anorexia as being 15 percent below the ideal healthy body weight and a"refusal to maintain a normal weight or above normal weight.” But not every person with a low weight is anorexic. Anorexia is a psychiatric illness. Warning signs include deliberate starvation, fear of gaining weight, restricted eating, compulsive exercise, sensitivity to cold and missing periods for more than three months

Darcy Gans, who works in the community department of ANAD, says there are about 8 to 9 million reported cases of eating disorders in the United States. Only half of the diagnosed cases are cured. Gans says kids as young as 5 experience symptoms of disordered eating.

Bulimia includes binge eating, then purging usually through vomiting and abusing laxatives or diuretics. A bulimic binge is eating a grossly excessive amount of food in a very short period of time. A girl with bulimia may feel emotionally or physically stressed, but she can be underweight, normal or overweight.

An"eating disorder not otherwise specified” is quirky eating that takes on a compulsive quality. Some girls may cut up their food into tiny pieces, hide their food, chew and spit out their food or move food around their plates. It’s usually seen in girls who meet some, but not all, of the criteria for anorexia or bulimia.

Binge eating disorder is compulsive overeating. The difference between bulimia and binge eating disorder is that bulimics purge—binge eaters don’t. Girls with binge eating disorder may eat an unusually large amount of food within a couple of hours, and then feel guilty, disgusted and depressed. They may eat a lot even when they aren’t hungry.

For local support and help, call the ANAD hotline at (847) 831-3438.

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