Eating Disorder Fact Sheet

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by an intense fear of weight gain. It involves an ongoing pattern of self-starvation and a preoccupation with food and losing weight. Some major signs and symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa are:

  • Weight below 85% of expected weight.
  • Amenorrhea (loss of menstrual period).
  • Disturbed by body image and denial of thinness.
  • Hyperactivity and excessive exercise.
  • Loss of hair (and possible growth of body hair – lanugo).
  • Low pulse rate.
  • Sensitivity to cold.
  • Nervousness at meal times.
  • Playing with or cutting food into small pieces.
  • Increased isolation from family and friends.
  • Perfectionism, tendency to be highly self-critical.
  • Compulsive exercise and compulsive cleaning.
  • May have alternating episodes of binge eating and purging.

What is bulimia nervosa?

Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting or purging through excessive exercise, or use of laxatives or diuretics. Some major signs and symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa are:

  • Fear of inability to stop eating voluntarily.
  • Frequent vomiting.
  • Menstrual irregularities.
  • Swollen glands.
  • Weight fluctuation due to alternate bingeing and fasting.
  • Secretive behavior and inconspicuous binge eating.
  • Puffiness in face (below cheeks), bursting blood vessels in the eyes, enamel erosion and tooth decay, esophagus damage, and internal bleeding.
  • Perfectionism, tendency to be highly self-critical.
  • Repeated attempts to reduce weight by excessive measures.
  • Petty stealing of money to buy food for binges.

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating and the absence of inappropriate compensatory behaviors that are characterized by Bulimia Nervosa. Some major signs and symptoms of BED are:

  • A sense of lack of control over eating while bingeing.
  • Eating large amounts of food when not hungry.
  • Eating alone due to embarrassment over how much one is eating.
  • Feeling guilty or depressed after bingeing.
  • A possible history of marked weight fluctuations.
  • Depression, anxiety, self-loathing, and interpersonal sensitivity.

What are the similarities between these three types of eating disorders?

  • Eating behaviors seem to develop as a way of handling stress and anxieties.
  • Eating disorders appear to run in families with female relatives most often affected. This suggests that genetic factors may predispose some people to an eating disorder however, other influences, both behavioral and environmental, may also play a role.
  • Individuals with anorexia tend to be “too good to be true.” They rarely disobey, keep their feelings to themselves, and tend to be perfectionists, good students, and excellent athletes. Some researchers believe that people with anorexia restrict food to gain a sense of control in some area of their lives. Since they’ve followed the wishes of others (for the most part), they have not learned how to cope with the problems of typical adolescence---growing up and becoming independent. Controlling their weight appears to offer two initial advantages: they can take control of their bodies and gain approval from others.  It eventually becomes clear however, that they are out of control and dangerously thin.
  • Individuals with bulimia and binge eating disorder typically consume huge amounts of food to reduce stress and relieve anxiety. With binge eating, comes guilt and depression. Purging only brings temporary relief. Individuals with bulimia are also impulsive and more likely to engage in risky behavior such as abuse of alcohol and drugs.

If you think you may be at risk of an eating disorder or know someone that may be at risk, fill out our survey and we'll happily discuss how healthy we believe your relationship with food is.

Find the survery here: Are You At Risk of Disordered Eating?

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Cambridge Eating Disorder Center offers eating disorder treatment programs.

  • 3 Bow Street,
    Cambridge, MA 02138
  • 1(617)547-2255 (phone)
  • 1(617)547-0003 (fax)