Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders

Publish Date March 17, 2023 5 Minute Read

What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are serious and sometimes fatal psychological conditions characterized by unhealthy, obsessive or disordered eating behaviors. If left untreated, eating disorders can cause potentially life-threatening conditions that can affect every organ in the body. Although eating disorders are more prevalent in young to middle-aged women, they can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes and sizes. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.

The 3 Most Common Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia nervosa: A condition causing people to have an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of their body size or shape. Individuals with anorexia nervosa tend to avoid or severely restrict their food intake, and they diet relentlessly, sometimes to the point of starvation.

Bulimia nervosa: An eating disorder characterized by cycles of binge eating excessive amounts of food, followed by purging. People feel a lack of control over these binge eating episodes, which usually take place over a short period of time.

Binge Eating Disorder: A condition marked by recurrent episodes of eating excessive amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over eating. People often feel guilt or shame after these episodes. Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States.

Other Eating Disorders

Orthorexia: Although not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the term was coined in 1998 and means obsession with eating healthfully. People can damage their own well-being by becoming so preoccupied with healthy eating that it affects their relationships and interrupts normal daily living. Orthorexia often involves restriction of the amount and variety of foods eaten, and it can lead to malnutrition.

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): A newer diagnosis described in the DSM-5, ARFID is a condition causing people to limit the types of food they eat. It usually starts at younger ages than other eating disorders. Children with ARFID are extremely picky eaters and have little interest in eating food. Unlike normal picky eating, a child doesn’t eat enough to grow and develop properly. People with this disorder don’t have a distorted body image or a fear of gaining weight.

Pica: Pica involves eating non-food items that don’t contain significant nutritional value, such as dirt, chalk and paint chips. Iron deficiency anemia and malnutrition are two of the most common causes of pica, followed by pregnancy.


Eating disorders aren’t caused by a single factor. In fact, the exact cause isn’t fully understood. They can arise from a disordered relationship with food, genetics, or emotional health and social factors. Teen girls and young women are more likely than teenage boys and young men to have anorexia or bulimia, but males can have eating disorders too. A family history of eating disorders or a history of anxiety disorder, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder may contribute to developing an eating disorder. Dieting can also develop into an eating disorder. Restrictive eating and weight loss may change the way the brain works in at-risk individuals, and may make it difficult to return to normal eating habits. Culture is also thought to play a role, since people can be pressured by society and media to obtain unrealistic physical appearances.

How to Help Prevent Eating Disorders

Eating disorder prevention should be based on promoting health, building self-esteem, promoting a positive body image and approaching nutrition and physical activity with balance. The following are some ways to help prevent eating disorders:

1. Educate yourself about eating disorders. Get accurate information about contributing factors, diagnosis and treatment.

2. Address mental health issues. Treatment for mental health leads to healthier behaviors and positive thoughts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 9% of all children ages 3-17 experience clinical anxiety and over 4% have a diagnosis of depression.

3. Set a good example for your child. Model healthy self-esteem and place value on character rather than appearance. Avoid attitudes that encourage an unrealistic body image or the idea that dieting and losing weight will lead to happiness.

4. Use healthy coping mechanisms. Help yourself to deal with stress by getting adequate sleep and plenty of exercise each day. Try relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga or deep breathing.

5. Reject diet culture. Use an intuitive eating approach to develop and maintain healthy eating habits by listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. You can meet virtually with a Kroger registered dietitian who can work with you on nutrition and intuitive eating.

Getting Help

Eating disorder treatment includes a multidisciplinary approach with a team of doctors, nurses, therapists and registered dietitians. You can find help and support through the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), which is the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders. Please note that this information is strictly educational, and isn’t providing an individualized healthcare recommendation. Please work with a doctor or mental health care provider when necessary.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and is not meant to provide healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

National Institute of Mental Health (2023). Eating Disorders. Retrieved January 26, 2023, from

Mayo Clinic (2023). Eating Disorders. Retrieved January 26, 2023, from

American Psychiatric Association (2023). What are Eating Disorders? Retrieved January 26, 2023, from