Eating Disorders

In many affluent industrialized nations, eating disorders have reached near epidemic proportions. According to the February 2007 issue of Biological Psychiatry, 4.5% of people in the US will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. An estimated 24 million people currently suffer from an eating disorder, with some groups, such as adolescent and college-age women, suffering in alarming numbers. In 2006, the National Eating Disorder Association reported that 1 in 5 college women suffers from an eating disorder. Yet these disorders often go undiagnosed and untreated. It is estimated that only about 35% of sufferers get treatment for their illnesses.

This page is designed to provide readers with both basic eating disorder “warning signs” and more detailed clinical information. If you have concerns about yourself or others, we encourage you to complete an online screening and/or visit your local health care professional.

Bradley students may access an online screening service at Mental Health Screening. (Keyword: Bradley University).

Are my body concerns and eating practices “normal”?

Only a health care professional can provide a comprehensive and accurate assessment of your health. However, you might want to consider these broad guidelines.

Normal body-image and eating concerns

  • Interest in improving physical appearance, health, and overall wellness
  • Enthusiasm about a new fitness or healthy eating plan
  • Focus on body image, while maintaining a reasonable level of self-acceptance
  • Pursuit of a challenging physical training program that incorporates good nutrition and balance

Problematic body-image and eating concerns

  • Singular focus on weight loss or obsession with restrictive (yo-yo) dieting
  • Punitive approach to body image which includes self-denigrating comments and/or excessive exercise or purging after eating
  • Working out to lose weight without regard for health and nutritional needs
  • Self-worth based entirely on body image
  • Compulsive, rigid or inflexible approach to a diet/exercise routine.

 

Eating disorder warning signs

Anorexia Nervosa (Detailed Diagnostic Criteria)

  • Deliberate self-starvation with weight loss
  • Intense, persistent fear of gaining weight
  • Refusal to eat or highly restrictive eating
  • Continuous dieting
  • Excessive facial/body hair because of inadequate protein in the diet
  • Compulsive exercise
  • Abnormal weight loss
  • Sensitive to cold
  • Absent or irregular menstruation
  • Hair loss

Bulimia Nervosa (Detailed Diagnostic Criteria)

  • Preoccupation with food
  • Binge eating, usually in secret
  • Vomiting after bingeing
  • Abuse of laxatives, diuretics, diet pills
  • Denial of hunger or drugs to induce vomiting
  • Compulsive exercise
  • Swollen salivary glands
  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes

Binge-Eating Disorder (Detailed Diagnostic Criteria)

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating, defined as
    1. Eating much more rapidly than normal
    2. Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
    3. Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
    4. Eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating
    5. Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or feeling very guilty after overeating
  • A sense of lack of control over eating during binging episodes
  • Marked psychological distress regarding binge eating

Reading picks

  • Andersen, A., Cohn, L., & Holbrook, T. Making Weight: Men’s Conflicts With Food, Weight, Shape and Appearance. *men
  • Brown, C. & Jasper J. Consuming passions : feminist approaches to weight preoccupation and eating disorders. *theory; clinical
  • Brumberg, J. Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa. *history of
  • Chernin, K. The Hungry Self: Women, Eating and Identity. *theory
  • Fussell, S.W. Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder.  *men, autobiography
  • Handler, S. The Body Burden: Living in the Shadow of Barbie. *autobiography
  • Hess-Biber, S. Am I Thin Enough Yet? The Cult of American Thinness and the Commercialization of Identity.
  • Pope, H., Phillips, K., & Olivardia, R. The Adonis Complex: The Secret of Male Body Obsession. *men
  • Rhodes, C.Life Inside the “Thin” Cage: A Personal Look Into the Hidden World of the Chronic Dieter. * compulsive dieting; autobiography

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (Detailed Diagnostic Criteria)

Some disordered eating does not fit neatly into the categories described above. Individuals may suffer from a variety of symptoms, but not meet the diagnostic criteria for any specific eating disorder. Such individuals may be diagnosed with an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (ED-NOS). Examples include the following:

  • For females, all of the criteria for anorexia nervosa are met except that the individual has regular periods.
  • All of the criteria for anorexia nervosa are met, however, despite significant weight loss the individual's current weight is in the normal range.
  • All of the criteria for bulimia nervosa are met except that the binge eating and inappropriate compensatory mechanisms (eg. purging, laxative abuse, excessive exercise, etc.) occur less than 2 times a week or for less than 3 months.
  • The regular use of inappropriate compensatory behavior by an individual of normal body weight after eating small amounts of food
  • Repeatedly chewing and spitting out, but not swallowing, large amounts of food. 

Men and Eating Disorders (Detailed Discussion)

Although eating disorders are commonly considered women’s disorders, men account for approximately 10% of those diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia. In addition, there is a growing awareness of Muscle Dysmorphia (one form of Body Dysmorphic Disorder), a body image disturbance suffered primarily by men. It is characterized by the following:

  • Viewing one’s body as puny despite efforts and success at body building.
  • Having a distorted body perception that leads to extreme efforts to increase lean muscle mass and overall body size.
  • Taking extreme measures to increase muscle mass, including excessive exercise, dietary manipulation and high protein intake, use of anabolic steroids.

Film picks

  • Gilday, Katherine (1990) The Famine Within.
  • Robertson, Dylan (2003) The Size of It.