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Eating Disorders (ED) are serious mental illnesses that are related to altered behaviour as regards eating habits, which means behaviours that go from eating in an uncontrolled manner to not eating food. It mainly affects adolescents and young women, and its appearance is mainly influenced by biological and personality factors. The most common disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder and Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.

Eating Disorders disease explained in first person

Professionals and patients explain how you live with the disease
Early diagnosis and early intervention are key to successful treatments and have been associated with a better prognosis.
In my case, it would have been good to see that there was a way out and to learn that I wouldn’t always be anorexic.

Eating Disorders (ED) affects millions of people all over the world. There is a wide consensus that biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors are involved in the development of these disorders. Although they can affect people of any age, gender, race, or socioeconomic level, they most often start in adolescents and young adults, and to a greater extent they can affect females more than males.

All the ED sub-types are characterised by an altered behaviour towards food ingestion or the appearance of behaviours in order to control weight. ED symptoms often vary over time, and in different people who initially have more restrictive clinical symptoms, can end up developing binge eating or the reverse. The EDs are associated with many medical and psychological complications, and affect the psychosocial functioning of the individual.

Types of Eating Disorders

Plate with food crossed out

Anorexia Nervosa. It is characterised by a restriction and reduction of nutritional ingestion, which leads to a significant loss of weight. The individual has an intense fear of gaining weight. During all this time, patients have great difficulty in recognising the seriousness of their current low weight, or are incapable of seeing their real physical state and weight loss, at the same time they give excessive value to their body weight and physical image. There are two types of anorexia nervosa:

  • Restrictive. The weight loss is due, above all, to the diet, the fasting and/or excessive exercise.
  • Binges/purges. During the last three months, the individual has recurrent episodes of binges or purges (self-induced vomiting or the incorrect use of laxatives, diuretics or enemas).
Person eating too much and vomiting

Bulimia Nervosa. It is characterised by the existence of recurrent episodes of bingeing. Binge eating is considered as the ingestion of food clearly greater than most people could eat in a determined time period (approximately two hours), accompanied by the feeling of loss of control during this period. The person repeatedly tries to compensate for that ingested in order to avoid an increase in weight, by self‑induced vomiting, physical exercise, fasting, or the use of laxatives, diuretics, or other medications. Those with Bulimia Nervosa are greatly concerned about their weight and body image.

Person thinking about food binge eating

Binge eating disorder. This is characterised by recurrent episodes of bingeing. These can be associated with eating a lot and quicker than normal, to continue eating despite feeling disagreeably full, to eat a large amount of food despite not feeling hungry, and to feel disgusted with themselves, depressed, or feeling very guilty after the episode. The binges produce an intense discomfort or unease in the person that has them.

Person worried about whether others think they are fat

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder is characterised by a lack of interest in food or avoidant due to any of the sensory properties of the food, or due to a preoccupation about the repulsive consequences of the action of eating or a fear of choking, demonstrating a persistent incapacity to satisfy the nutritional needs. Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder leads to a significant loss of weight, or it does not comply with the expected growth, significant nutritional deficiencies, dependence on nutrition supplements and an important interference in psychosocial functioning. Self‑perception is not affected in this disorder and there is no distortion of body image.

How many people are affected by Eating Disorders?

Eating Desorders mainly affect adolescents and young women. Studies show that the prevalence has increased since the 1950’s. The classically recognised frequency of one male for every 10 females with an Eating Disorder seems to be changing, and the percentage of males that have this disorder has increased.

The prevalence throughout life of Anorexia Nervosa is up to 4.2%. The prevalence throughout life of Bulimia Nervosa varies between approximately 2 and 4%, and that of Binge Disorder is about 2%. As regards the Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, more studies are needed in order to be able to estimate its prevalence, although it is estimated that between 3% and 5% of children have this disorder.

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Substantiated information by:

Inés Hilker Salinas
Itziar Flamarique Valencia
María Caballero

Published: 14 January 2019
Updated: 14 January 2019

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