What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is an illness characterized by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight or shape, and affects both females and males. Preoccupation with weight and shape can become so intense that it is difficult for the individual to think about anything else. Extreme weight control behaviours often include restriction of quantities and types of food to the point of starvation, compulsive exercise, etc. Often an individual develops their own unique collection of symptoms and behaviours.

What are some of the different types of eating disorders?

Anorexia nervosa

An individual with anorexia nervosa is obsessed with thinness and will starve herself/himself to achieve desirable weight that is well below a weight that is compatible with health. People with anorexia believe that they will feel better and look better if they continue to lose weight, even if their weight is far below a healthy level, as they cannot ‘see’ their real body size. Allowing oneself to eat or gain weight is associated with feelings of shame and failure.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by repeated binge eating followed by behaviours that compensate for the overeating, such as forced vomiting, excessive exercise, or extreme use of laxatives or diuretics. Individuals typically eat an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most individuals would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances. These episodes occur on average once a week for three months. Self-evaluation is unduly focused on/influenced by body weight and shape.

How are eating disorders treated?

Treatment for eating disorders is provided by a team of doctors, nutritionists, and therapists and can include: 

  • Medical care and monitoring to address any physical health issues that may have arisen as a result of disordered eating behaviours
  • Nutritional care to restore weight, guidance for normal eating, and the integration of an individualized meal plan
  • Therapy to address the underlying causes of eating disorders and learn healthier coping skills and methods for expressing emotions, communicating and maintaining healthy relationships
  • Medications to help resolve mood or anxiety symptoms that can occur with an eating disorder or in reducing binge-eating and purging behaviours

What should I do to get help?

If you or a friend or family member is suffering with symptoms of an eating disorder, it is important to see your family doctor or speak with a mental health professional available through the mental health and substance use centre in your community.


For more information and other resources that may be of help please see below:

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