Eating disorders are complex illnesses affecting every aspect of an individual’s life, often with long term consequences. They are psychiatric, psychological, social and medical. They can become incapacitating, and in five to ten per cent of cases they are fatal.
Anorexia nervosa – characterized by intense and irrational fear of weight gain, extreme restriction of food intake, and distorted body image, anorexia has the highest risk of death out of all types of eating disorders.
Bulimia nervosa – the cycle of bulimic behaviour typically starts with repeated binge eating, followed by measures taken to compensate for the caloric intake, such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, laxative or diuretics abuse, or fasting.
Binge eating disorder – individuals suffering from binge eating disorder (BED) experience complete lack of control over eating and subsequently consume large quantities of food all at once, not in response to physiological hunger but rather as a way to numb out emotions. Because these binges are rarely accompanied by the sort of compensatory measures typical of bulimia, BED often leads to significant weight gain and/or obesity.
Eating disorders are more than simply diets gone awry: they are not a lifestyle choice, and, despite their name and symptoms, they are not about food, weight or body shape. Restricting, bingeing, purging and compulsive exercise are maladaptive behaviours resulting from or developed to cope with a combination of emotional, cultural, physiological and genetic factors. People do not choose to have eating disorders, but with support they can choose to recover.