Eating Disorders

About Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are behavioral conditions characterized by severe and persistent disturbance in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions. Although we don’t know exactly what causes eating disorders, genetics, trauma, and societal pressures all contribute to their development. People experiencing mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, trauma/PTSD, or addiction, may engage in disordered eating as a way to cope. 

Body dissatisfaction is a major contributor to the development of eating disorders. Genetics, personality, culture, and family impact our perception of ourselves and our bodies. We are living in a society that normalizes “diet culture.” As a result, millions of Americans are taking drastic measures to achieve an unrealistic body ideal. In doing so, they often sacrifice their health, and in some cases, their lives.

Eating disorders affect people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities, and many people who suffer from them will not seek help due to the stigma and shame associated with these disorders. Some people, including BIPOC, LGBTQ+, athletes, people in larger bodies, and people with disabilities, are at higher risk of developing eating disorders and/or less likely to seek or have access to treatment because of institutionalized discrimination and other barriers. 

Most people are familiar with diagnoses of anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge eating disorder (BED)-- three of the best known, and officially recognized, types of eating disorders. A large percentage of people struggling with eating disorders do not fit into these categories; they may be diagnosed with Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED). Regardless of diagnosis, disordered eating behaviors put people at risk both medically and psychologically.

A Serious Problem

Eating disorders can lead to harmful medical, psychological, and nutritional consequences. In fact, eating disorders can affect every organ system in the body.

Some of the major health risks resulting from eating disorders include:

  • heart failure
  • osteoporosis
  • infertility
  • kidney failure
  • depressed immune system
  • pneumonia
  • liver disease
  • exercise-related injuries such as stress fractures
  • death

We need to be aware of the seriousness of eating disorders, and recognize the signs and symptoms involved. Recovery from eating disorders is possible with help from qualified health care professionals. Treatment usually involves a team approach including care from knowledgeable medical providers, mental health providers, and dietitians. Support from family and friends is also needed to help those suffering from an eating disorder.

Related Services at UHS

See: Eating Disorders: Medical, Counseling, and Educational Services

Additional Resources

Find a screening tool and a wealth of information about eating disorders at National Eating Disorders Association

Find free, peer support services at National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders

Information and resources at  Eating Disorders Resource Center

Information and training at The Body Positive

Information and training at Be Nourished