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Basic Information on Eating Disorders

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Updated July 20, 2006

We all eat to live. Eating disorders occur when this normal function becomes a problem. Eating, weight, or dieting take on emotional roles above and beyond their normal physical roles.

Eating disorders are more common in women than men. An estimated 85 - 95% of patients with anorexia or bulimia are female. Thirty five percent of those with binge-eating disorder are male.

People with anorexia nervosa usually view themselves as overweight, even though they are may be dangerously thin. Anorexia nervosa is a serious, often chronic, eating disorder. For someone with this condition, eating becomes an obsession. Unusual or particular eating habits and other weight control habits may develop.

Bulimia nervosa is a serious eating disorder, in which people binge eat, and later purge - either by vomiting, laxatives, excessive exercise, or other behavior designed to offset the impact of the food. People with bulimia usually weigh within the normal range for their age and height. Like anorexics, bulimics are usually afraid of gaining weight, want to lose weight, and feel intensely dissatisfied with their bodies.

Binge-eating disorder is probably the most common eating disorder. It involves recurrent episodes of out-of-control eating, with the same binge-eating symptoms as those with bulimia. The main difference when compared to bulimia is that binge-eaters do not purge their bodies of excess calories. Many people with the disorder are overweight.

Eating disorders treatment often involves a comprehensive plan including medical care and monitoring, psychological support and interventions, nutritional counseling, and, sometimes, medication. People with eating disorders often do not recognize or admit that they are ill. As a result, they may strongly resist getting and staying in treatment.

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