Eating disorders

Experimental visualization of narrower problems

An eating disorder is a mental disorder defined by abnormal eating habits that negatively affect a person's physical or mental health. They include binge eating disorder where people eat a large amount in a short period of time, anorexia nervosa where people eat very little and thus have a low body weight, bulimia nervosa where people eat a lot and then try to rid themselves of the food, pica where people eat non-food items, rumination disorder where people regurgitate food, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder where people have a lack of interest in food, and a group of other specified feeding or eating disorders. Anxiety disorders, depression, and substance abuse are common among people with eating disorders. These disorders do not include obesity.

The causes of eating disorders are not clear. Both biological and environmental factors appear to play a role. Cultural idealization of thinness is believed to contribute. Eating disorders affect about 12 per cent of dancers. Individuals who have experienced sexual abuse are also more likely to develop eating disorders. Some disorders such as pica and rumination disorder occur more often in people with intellectual disabilities. Only one eating disorder can be diagnosed at a given time.

Treatment can be effective for many eating disorders. Typically, this involves counselling, a proper diet, a normal amount of exercise, and the reduction of efforts to eliminate food. Hospitalization may be needed in more serious cases. Medications may be used to help with some of the associated symptoms. About 70% of people with anorexia and 50% of people with bulimia recover within five years. Recovery from binge eating disorder is less clear and estimated at 20% to 60%. Both anorexia and bulimia increase the risk of death.

In the developed world binge eating disorder affects about 1.6% of women and 0.8% of men in a given year. Anorexia affects about 0.4% and bulimia affects about 1.3% of young women in a given year. Up to 4% of women have anorexia, 2% have bulimia, and 2% have binge eating disorder at some point in time. Anorexia and bulimia occur nearly ten times more often in females than males. Typically, they begin in late childhood or early adulthood. Rates of other eating disorders are not clear. Rates of eating disorders appear to be lower in less developed countries.


A 1984 international conference on the subject disclosed that the number of adolescents with anorexia nervosa and bulimia, eating disorders characterized by starvation or binge eating and purging, had increased dramatically in the past 15 years. In the USA, for example, a third of female high school and college students show tendencies toward anorexia or bulimia, or both.

Men who suffer from eating disorders have higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders and alcohol abuse than their peers. These men are also more likely to report problems in their marriage and feel dissatisfied with life in general. However, it is not clear whether these findings reflect factors that predispose a person to an eating disorder or are consequences of anorexia and bulimia.

In other findings, eating disorders appeared to be clinically similar in both sexes.

However, eating disorders and excessive dieting are 10 times more common in women than in men. Karen Carpenter, a famous American singer, died of heart strain due to anorexia nervosa, and in 1985 Jane Fonda, American actress, author, and activist, disclosed that she had been bulimic during her late teens and early twenties.


Eating disorders are a response to society's pressures to look right, the biological drive to reproduce and family problems. Women tend to internalize their anxiety and distress, and experience it via their bodies. Starving and stuffing also acts on the body's biochemistry in a way that temporarily relieves emotional stress. Eating disorders are seen as a disorder of women, but they are a cultural sickness. Men are much more likely to overwork, abuse alcohol or behave violently. Bulimics are ambitious, but they become trapped in a private world of self-hatred, guilt and degradation. They may present an image of self-assurance, but their private feelings are crippling inferiority, turmoil, and isolation. Anorexics, on the other hand, tend to be obsessional and perfectionist. They are high achievers who are emotionally dependent on their parent. They are terrified of being out of control and feel they succeed through controlling their body weight.

Unhealthy diet
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being
Date of last update
19.03.2019 – 17:14 CET