What are Eating Disorders?

[TRIGGER WARNING: The following article mentions eating disorders. Reader discretion is advised.]

Eating Disorders (EDs) are a range of psychological conditions characterised by unhealthy eating patterns, and may be prevalent even if one is within the healthy weight range. There are stereotypes that men are less likely to have EDs when compared to women, but research shows that men actually make up 15% of ED cases. 


Types of EDs and their Characteristics

✽ Anorexia Nervosa

  • Intense fear of gaining weight*
  • Partial or total abstinence from food 
  • Severely distorted body image
  • Lack of awareness on seriousness of low weight
  • Subtypes: Diet restricting type or binge-eating/purging type (or by laxative)

✽ Bulimia Nervosa

  • Engaged in a cycle of bingeing and purging 
  • Bingeing: emotionally induced consumption of excessive amounts of food every few hours
  • Guilt from bingeing triggers / prevention of weight gain through compensatory behaviour* (e.g. self-induced vomiting, excessive exercising, extreme fasting, or laxatives)

✽   Binge-Eating Disorder (BED)

  • Uncontrolled, impulsive, continuous overeating to the point of discomfort and pain
  • Intense guilt and self-loathing from bingeing
  • No compensatory behaviour (i.e. purging) after*
  • Binge episodes are typically triggered by an emotional event, causing individuals to turn to food for comfort 

✽   Orthorexia Nervosa

    • Extreme exercise and obsession with eating perceived ‘healthy’ food to attain ‘pure’, ‘clean’, and healthy bodies (focus on how food affects perceived health*)
    • Avoidance of perceived ‘unhealthy’ food, such as those with oil, butter, carbohydrates, etc. 
    • Excessive elimination of foods, resulting in extreme weight loss

* These are the characteristics used to differentiate between the different types of EDs


Signs and Symptoms

  • Distorted perception of own body and weight
  • Extreme preoccupation with food
  • Emotional state tied to eating habits
  • Self-loathing behaviour
  • Reduced concentration and thinking ability
  • Becoming very secretive about food
  • Moodiness, shakiness and irritability
  • Obsessive food routines and habits
  • Social withdrawal and isolation 
  • Avoidance of social situations that include food


Causes of ED

  • Mood Disorders
  • Unhealthy perceptions of body (may be sustained by parental and peer pressure)
  • Past traumatic experiences (e.g. Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse)
  • Major changes in life (e.g. loss of a friend or family, relationship breakup)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Family history/ diet influence 
  • Media and environment (e.g. Beauty standards) 


Prevention of EDs

  • Education for healthy eating, nutrition and coping methods
    • Consider consulting a nutritionist or dietician to find out more on what healthy eating looks like for you
  • Engage in enjoyable and meaningful physical activities
  • Surround yourself with supportive and positive influences
  • Communicate with your friends and family about how you feel


Treatment for EDs

✽ Family Therapy

Family Therapy is commonly used to help adolescents with anorexia. This form of therapy helps encourage parents to be involved in their child's recovery. Family members can also help to ensure that steps to recovery are taken home, and not just during recovery. They can also help individuals watch their eating habits and work towards their goals.

✽ Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help individuals identify and challenge dysfunctional thoughts about body image, and learn more adaptive ways of thinking and responding to triggers.

✽ Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) helps with addressing and regulating negative emotions. Individuals learn to practice mindfulness and are equipped with distress tolerance skills to effectively deal with stressors.