If you have this disorder, you see yourself as overweight even though you are dangerously thin. The process of eating becomes an obsession. You develop unusual eating habits, such as avoiding food and meals, picking out a few foods and eating these in small quantities, or carefully weighing and portioning food. You may repeatedly check your body weight and engage in other techniques to control your weight, such as intense and compulsive exercise or purging. Purging can be done by vomiting or by abusing laxatives, enemas, and diuretics. Girls with
often experience a delayed onset of their first menstrual period.
Symptoms of anorexia nervosa may include: Excessive weight lossObsession with food calories and fat contentDieting even when thinIntense fear of gaining weight, even when underweightDistorted self-image of excess weightUndue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluationLoss of menstrual periods or delay in onset of periodExcessive exercisingFeeling cold, especially in the hands and feetBeing secretive about foodHair loss and/or growth of fine hair on the bodyFainting or lightheadednessConstipationDepression
The course and outcome of anorexia nervosa varies among people. Some recover fully after a single episode, some have a pattern of weight gain and relapse, and others have the illness over many years.
, binge-eating episodes are followed by purging or exercise. Therefore, you may weigh within the normal range for your age and height. However, like individuals with anorexia, you may fear gaining weight, desire to lose weight, and feel intensely dissatisfied with your body. You may binge and purge in secrecy, feeling disgusted and ashamed when you binge, yet relieved after you purge.
Behavioral symptoms include: Eating large amounts of food at one time and, as a result, often spending a great deal of money on foodFeeling like your eating is out of controlMaking yourself throw upTaking laxatives, enemas, water pills, or diet pillsExcessive exercisingSpending a lot of time aloneMood swingsDepressionTrouble controlling impulsesAlcohol
Physical symptoms include: Abdominal painMenstrual problemsSwelling of cheeks and jawSore throatBloatingStained, eroded, or chipped teeth due to contact with stomach acidCuts or scars on back of hands from scraping skin on teeth during forced vomiting
Bulimia can lead to other problems including: Dental and throat problems from stomach acid that rises during vomitingChanges in body chemistry and fluids due to vomiting and abuse of laxatives or water pills
Symptoms of these complications include: LightheadednessFeeling faintExtreme thirstMuscle crampsWeaknessConstipationIrregular heartbeatHeart problems
Binge Eating Disorder
If you have
binge eating disorder
, you experience frequent episodes of out-of-control eating along with the same binge eating symptoms as those with bulimia. The main difference is that you do not purge. Therefore, you may be overweight for your age and height. Feelings of self-disgust and shame associated with this illness can lead to recurrent binging.
Symptoms include: Recurrent episodes of binge eating, characterized by eating an excessive amount of food and by a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode
The binge-eating episodes are associated with at least three of the following:
Eating much more rapidly than normalEating until feeling uncomfortably fullEating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungryEating alone because of embarrassment about how much you are eatingFeeling disgusted with yourself, depressed, or very guilty after overeatingDistress about the binge eating behaviorThe binge eating occurs, on average, at least two days a week for six monthsThe binge eating is not associated with the regular use of inappropriate behaviors such as purging, fasting, or excessive exercise
Yager J, Devlin MJ, et al.
Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Eating Disorders.
3rd ed. American Psychiatric Association; 2006. Available at:
. Accessed July 11, 2013.
Last reviewed May 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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