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Most people enjoy eating.

But for people with an eating disorder, it brings about very different feelings. They become obsessed with thoughts of eating and have an intense fear of gaining weight. These thoughts disrupt their daily activities.

The 2 most well-known eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.Anorexia is self-starvation. Bulimia is a disorder in which a person eats large amounts of food (binges) and then tries to undo the effects of the binge in some way, usually by ridding the body of the food that was eaten. Some people have symptoms of both anorexia and bulimia. (A quick note about people with binge-eating disorder: they eat large amounts of food in a short time and feel intense guilt afterward, but unlike people with bulimia, they don't purge themselves.)

What causes eating disorders?

There is no single cause of eating disorders. But many factors can lead to an eating disorder. Genetics are now felt to play an important role. Although each person's situation is different, people with eating disorders may share many of the same traits, such as

What is anorexia?

People with anorexia have a distorted image of their bodies and such an intense fear of becoming fat that they hardly eat and become dangerously thin. Many people with anorexia also vomit and overexercise, and they may abuse diet pills to keep from gaining weight. If the condition gets worse, they can die from suicide, heart problems, or starving to death.

People with anorexia focus all of their energy on staying thin. Much of their time is spent thinking about food. For example, people with anorexia may

What does anorexia do to the body?

Over time, anorexia can lead to kidney and liver damage, bone damage, and heart problems. When the body is starved of food, many physical changes occur like

Who is at risk of developing anorexia?

Most people with anorexia are girls in their teens or even younger. But boys can be anorexic, too. Teens who develop anorexia usually are good students, even overachievers. They get along well with others, tend to be perfectionists, and don't like to admit they need help with anything. They may appear to be in control. However, they actually are insecure, self-critical, and have low self-esteem. They are very concerned about being liked and focused on pleasing others.

Most people who develop anorexia start by dieting. Dieting becomes more severe and strict over time. They may think that losing weight will make them feel better about themselves. Dieting also might be a response to a major life change like puberty or going away to college. Because people with anorexia have low self-esteem, they have a hard time coping with these changes and feel like they're losing control. Over time, dieting is no longer about losing weight, but a way to feel in control.

When should a person get help?

It's important to know the early signs of anorexia before it's too late. The earlier an eating disorder is recognized, the better chance there is of recovery. If someone is having physical symptoms caused by weight loss or answers “yes” to any of the following, that person should get help right away.

What is bulimia?

Bulimia is another eating disorder that is harmful to a person's physical and mental health. Bulimia and anorexia share some of the same symptoms.

People with bulimia have a difficult time controlling their eating behavior. They may be afraid to eat in public or with other people because they are afraid they won't be able to control their urges to binge and purge. Their fear may cause them to avoid being around people. They also may

People with bulimia often suffer from other problems as well, such as

What are bingeing and purging?

Bingeing

Purging

What does bulimia do to the body?

Like anorexia, bulimia damages the body. For example,

Who gets bulimia?

Most people with bulimia are girls in their teens and young adult women. But boys can be bulimic, too. People with bulimia often have a hard time controlling impulses, stress, and anxieties. As with anorexia, people with bulimia aren't happy with their bodies and think they are fat. This leads to dieting. Then in response to anxiety and other emotions or hunger, they give in to their impulses and cravings for food by bingeing. People with bulimia may be underweight, overweight, or of average weight.

How are eating disorders treated?

The earlier an eating disorder is recognized, the higher the chances are of treatment working. Treatment depends on many things, including the person's willingness to make changes, family support, and the stage of the eating disorder.

Successful treatment of eating disorders involves a team approach. The team includes many health care professionals working together, each treating a certain aspect of the disorder. Treatment should begin with a visit to a pediatrician to see how the eating disorder has affected the body. If the effects are severe, the person may need medical treatment or even need to be hospitalized.

In treating anorexia, increasing the person's weight is crucial. If this person refuses to eat, hospitalization may be needed so that adequate nutrition can be ensured. People with bulimia also may need to be hospitalized to treat medical complications, replace needed nutrients in the body, or stop the cycle of bingeing and purging.

Counseling is an important part of treatment. Counseling helps people with eating disorders understand how they use food as a way to deal with problems and feelings. It helps them improve their self-images and develop the confidence to take control of their lives. Family therapy usually is needed to help family members understand the problem, how to be encouraging and supportive, and how to help manage the symptoms. Nutrition counseling with a registered dietitian also is recommended to assist patients and families in returning to healthy eating habits.

Living with an eating disorder is very hard on teens and their families! The wear and tear on the body is tremendous. Without help, a person with an eating disorder can have serious health problems, become very sick, and even die. However, with treatment, a person can get well and go on to lead a healthy life.

Where can I find more information?

Please note: Listing of resources does not imply an endorsement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP is not responsible for the content of the resources mentioned in this brochure. Phone numbers and Web site addresses are as current as possible, but may change at any time.

The persons whose photographs are depicted in this publication are professional models. They have no relation to the issues discussed. Any characters they are portraying are fictional.

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