An eating or appetite disorder is any medical condition that causes significant and potentially dangerous changes to a person’s diet. These disorders often start during the teen years or young adulthood, but they can occur at any age and to both men and women.
Eating disorders frequently start out fairly innocently, with a person eating less or more food, but they can gradually become a bigger problem as time goes on. Often the disorder includes a mental component, such as depression or anxiety. Left untreated, eating disorders can bring on other life-threatening symptoms.
Types of Eating Disorders
The three most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating. Anorexia often involves severe diet restriction and a dangerously distorted body image. Those with anorexia typically think they're overweight or obese when they are, in fact, dangerously thin. They will restrict their diet to near the point of starvation.
People with bulimia nervosa may have a similar fear of gaining weight, but they're often at a healthy weight or slightly overweight. The main characteristic of bulimia is frequent binging and purging: The person eats a large amount of food and then purges it from the body by vomiting or using laxatives.
Binge-eating disorder is characterized by eating large amounts of food, but it does not involve purging. As a result, many with binge-eating disorders are dangerously overweight, which puts them at risk for a variety of other health conditions.
All people with an eating or appetite disorder can benefit from treatment. This usually involves some kind of psychological counseling or therapy to help them work through their mind-body issues. Also, nutritional counseling can help them gain a greater understanding of the right way to eat. If the eating disorder has become quite serious, other medical treatment may be needed to help restore good health before working on the long-term solutions to the illness.
SOURCES: U.S. National Institute of Mental Health; American Psychological Association