Most common eating disorders

Eating disorders occur when people have extreme emotional and behavioral issues with food and their weight. The most common eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. Developing an eating disorder can have severe physical and emotional effects on a person which can even become life-threatening. Both men and woman get eating disorders, however, women are much more likely than men to develop them. In the U.S., 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life. 


While it looks eating disorders are about food and weight, they often develop as a way to cope with some type of emotional pain a person is suffering from inside. They develop when a person feels overwhelmed by something they cannot control in their life, and as a coping method, they take control of what they eat, how much or little they eat, and ultimately how much they weigh. People suffering from an eating disorder may believe this makes them feel better, but in reality, they are doing serious damage to their emotional and physical health.

There are a number of reasons people develop eating disorders. Most commonly, people develop them as a result of psychological or emotional problems they are suffering from. This is usually related to low self-esteem issues, depression, anxiety, anger, emotionally or physically abusive relationships, pressure from society telling us what ‘thin’ looks like, and many other factors. 

It’s important to recognize whether you, or someone close to you, is suffering from an eating disorder. They are serious health conditions which require professional help. Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve recovery. Here is what to look out for among the various types of eating disorders:


Anorexia nervosa: self-starvation and extreme weight loss. 


• Inadequate food intake

• Extremely weight loss 

• Strong sense of fear when thinking about food and weight gain

• Obsession with avoiding weight gain

• Low self-esteem regarding physical appearance 

• Denial in regards to the severity of issues with food and weight

Warning signs others may notice or can look out for:

• Excessive weight loss

• Obsessed with weight and losing weight, what they eat (i.e. calories, grams), and dieting 

• Refuses to eat certain foods, or food groups (i.e. carbs)

• Often talks about feeling “fat” even when they’ve lost weight

• Gets anxiety about gaining weight or being “fat”

• Denies hunger when you know they haven’t eaten for a while

• Develops food rituals (i.e. eating foods in certain orders, excessive chewing, rearranging food on a plate)

• Consistent excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food.

• Overly obsessed with exercising

• Socializes less with friends or family, less interest in usual activities

Binge eating disorder: cycles of binge eating (eating excessive amounts of food in short periods of time)


• Frequent cycles of eating excessive amounts of food

• Feeling unable to control yourself while binge eating 

• Feeling extremely guilty or shameful about binge eating 

• Eating when not hungry, eating until feeling physically uncomfortable, eating alone as a result of feelings of guilt and shame

Bulimia nervosa: Binge eating followed by forcing yourself to vomit.


• Cycles of binge-eating and vomiting; consuming large amounts of food followed by behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as throwing up 

• Feeling unable to control yourself while binge-eating 

• Low self-esteem regarding body image

Warning signs others may notice or can look out for:

• Evidence of binge eating; disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time, finding leftover, and often hidden, wrappers and containers 

• Evidence of purging (vomiting); frequent bathroomvisits directly after eating, hearing and/or smelling vomit, finding laxatives or diuretics

• Excessive exercise; no excuses to exercise, will do whatever it takes just to burn calories

• Unusual swollen cheeks or jaw

• Calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting.

• Discolored or stained teeth. 

• Odd change or creation of behavioral habits/rituals, which cover for binge-and-purge rituals

• Socializes less with friends or family, less interested in usual activities 

For more information on eating disorders, visit the National Eating Disorders Association: NEDA