Disordered Eating Patterns

Low body weight can lead to muscle and bone loss, weakness, a weakened immune system, and reduced quality of life. Eating a balanced diet, aiming for a mix of protein, nutrient-rich carbohydrates like starchy vegetables, whole grains, or legumes, and vegetables or fruits along with some healthy fats at each meal can help one achieve a healthy weight.

Eating Disorders

In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, orthorexia, or other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED). (1)  College students are particularly vulnerable to developing eating disorders. The numbers affected are hard to assess due to the high number of undiagnosed disorders.

Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Primary symptoms include:

  • Inability to maintain a minimally normal body weight
  • Intense fear of weight gain or being fat
  • Feeling fat despite weight loss, normal, or low body weight
  • Loss of menstrual cycle

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a secretive cycle of binging and purging. Primary symptoms include:

  • Eating large quantities of food, often secretly, without regard to feelings of hunger or fullness and with feelings of being out of control while eating
  • Follows “binges” with some form of purging to make up for calorie intake such as vomiting, laxative or diuretic use, fasting and/or compulsive exercise

Binge eating disorder is category of eating disorder characterized by frequent episodes of uncontrolled overeating not followed by any purging behavior. Primary symptoms include:

  • Eating large quantities of food, often secretly, without regard to feelings of hunger or fullness and with feelings of being “out of control” while eating
  • Eating rapidly without really tasting the food
  • Extreme feelings of shame, disgust or guilt after a binge

Orthorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an unhealthy fixation on eating healthy or “pure” foods. Primary symptoms include:

  • Preoccupation with eating patterns that include only foods believed promote optimal health
  • Severe restriction of all foods considered “unhealthy” and/or belief that certain foods are not tolerated outside of any medical diagnosis
  • Extreme use of dietary supplements and/or practices such as fasting or juicing thought to “cleanse” the body
  • Perception when challenged to eat more variety that a less healthy diet is being promoted
  • Behavior usually results in malnutrition and weight loss

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)  is a feeding or eating disorder that causes significant distress or impairment, but does not meet the criteria for another feeding or eating disorder. Examples of OSFED include:

  • Atypical anorexia nervosa (weight is not below normal)
  • Bulimia nervosa (with less frequent behaviors)
  • Binge eating disorder (with less frequent occurrences)
  • Purging disorder (purging without binge eating)
  • Night eating syndrome (excessive nighttime food consumption)


Though the warning signs of any eating disorder vary with the type of disorder, here are some red flags that signal a possible eating disorder:

  • Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams, and/or dieting
  • Extreme concern about body weight or shape
  • Inflexible restrictions regarding food
  • Frequent comments or anxiety about gaining weight or being fat
  • Denial of hunger
  • Refusal to eat in front of others or frequent trips to the restroom after eating
  • Food rituals such as eating foods in a certain order, excessive chewing, or not allowing foods to touch each other
  • Excessively rigid exercise program despite weather, fatigue, or injury
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Avoidance of food situations
  • Food, weight loss and dieting become primary concern that takes priority over all other areas of daily activity

Health Risks

Health consequences of an eating disorder are serious, and can be life threatening. Side effects of eating disorders can include:

  • Changes in blood pressure and heart rate
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Dehydration
  • Muscle loss
  • Tooth decay
  • Bone loss

Without intervention the side effects of an eating disorder can destroy your health for life. If you or someone you know shows signs of an eating disorder, don’t wait until it becomes a serious medical problem, seek help now. Expect to feel nervous, but the sooner you get help from a medical professional, the better your chances are for developing a healthy relationship with food.


National Eating Disorders Association, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org. Accessed July 2016.

This information is not intended to take the place of advice from a healthcare professional. Check with your physician before starting any diet or exercise program. In addition, while all efforts have been made to ensure the information included in this material is correct, new research is released frequently and may invalidate certain pieces of data. March 2016